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Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Interviews with David Barsamian 

Pluto Press 



First published in the United Kingdom 1996 by Pluto Press 
345 Archway Road, London N6 5AA 

This edition is not for sale in North America 

Copyright 1996 © Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian 

All rights reserved 

Transcripts by Sandy Adler 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data 
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 

ISBN 0 7453 1138 5 hbk 

Digital processing by The Electric Book Company 
20 Cambridge Drive, London SE12 8AJ, UK 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



Click on number to go to page 

Introduction 6 

Looking Ahead: Tenth Anniversary Interview 8 

Rollback: The Return of Predatory Capitalism 23 

History and Memory 81 

The Federal Reserve Board 130 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 152 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 206 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



In this third book in a series of interview collections, Noam Chomsky 
begins with comments about the right-wing agenda that have turned out 
to be prescient. Corporations with their political allies are waging an 
unrelenting class war against working people. A vast social engineering 
project is being implemented under the guise of fiscal responsibility. In 
this latest incarnation of class warfare, there is no doubt as to which 
side Chomsky is on. For him, solidarity is not an abstract concept but a 
vital and unifying principle. 

The interviews were recorded in Chomsky’s office at MIT and by 
phone from 1994 to 1996. Some were broadcast nationally and 
internationally as part of my Alternative Radio weekly series. Others 
were aired on KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. 

The accolades and accusations accorded Noam Chomsky are too 
numerous — and too well known — to warrant discussion here. For those 
sympathetic to his views there are a number of possible responses. One 
is to stand in awe of his prolific output and unwavering principles, 
limited by the sense that his abilities are unmatchable. A second choice 
is to implement his simple formula for learning about the world and 
creating social change: “There has not in history ever been any answer 
other than, Get to work on it." Indeed, it’s not like mastering quantum 
physics or learning Sanskrit. 

Class Warfare is provided in the hopes the reader might choose to 
engage in political action. After countless books, interviews, articles and 
speeches, Chomsky concludes with one wish: “What I should be doing 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 


is way more of this kind of thing." That a person of his commitment is 
seeking ways to increase his contribution is, for me, a source of 
continued inspiration. 

— David Barsamian 
March 10, 1996 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 

Tenth Anniversary Interview 

December 20, 1994 

DB Noam, it was ten years ago that we did our first interview. I 
know that you do so few interviews it probably is very vivid in your 

Absolutely. I recall every word [laughs], 

DB / remember it well because I had all sorts of technical problems. 
I couldn’t operate the tape recorder. I called you and said, We can’t do 
it. Then I managed to figure it out. Anyway, that was ten years ago. A 
review of Keeping the Rabble in Line says we have a “symbiotic 
relationship. ” Is that something that we need to worry about? 

As long as it’s symbiotic at long distance, I guess it’s OK. 

DB All right, good. Actually, we usually end on this kind of note. I 
want to start with your upcoming plans. I know you have a trip to 
Australia coming up in January. 

That one’s been in the works for about twenty years, I guess. 

DB Any new books? 

Looking Ahead 


Right now I’m in the middle of a very technical book on linguistics 
and I have in the back of my mind a long-promised book on the 
philosophy of language. On the political issues, I’m not exactly sure. I 
might be putting together some essays and updating them. Several 
people have asked for updated and extended essays on current matters 
and I might do that. I’m not really sure. I have sort of a feeling that I’ve 
saturated the market a bit with books. I might wait a while. 

DB How about writing for Z? Are you going to continue that? 

Oh, sure. I have a couple of articles coming out right now. There’s a 
long one, which was too long, so it was broken into two parts. It will be 
coming out in January and February. There’s a bunch of other things. 
And other journals. 

DB The last time we had a conversation you said that the linguistics 
work was particularly exciting. There was a certain animation in your 
voice. What particularly is attractive to you about the work you’re doing 
now in linguistics? 

It’s hard to explain easily. There’s a kind of a rhythm to any work, I 
think, probably to any scientific work. Some interesting ideas come 
along and change the way you look at things. A lot of people start trying 
them and applying them. They find all kinds of difficulties and try to 
work it out. There’s a period of working on things within a relatively fixed 
framework. At some point they converge, or something leaps out at you 
and you suddenly see there’s another way of looking at it that is much 
better than the old one and that will put to rest a lot of the problems 
that people have been grappling with. Now you go off to a new stage. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


Right now there’s a good chance that it’s that kind of moment, which for 
me at least has happened maybe two or three times before altogether. It 
happens to be particularly exciting this time. There seems to be a way 
possibly to show that a core part of human language, the core part of 
the mechanisms that relate sound and meaning, are not only largely 
universal, but in fact even from a certain point of view virtually optimal. 
Meaning on very general considerations if you were to design a system, 
like if you were God designing a system, you would come close to doing 
it this way. There are a lot of remarkable things about language anyway. 
It has properties that, it has been known for a long time, you just 
wouldn’t expect a biological organism to have at all, properties which in 
many ways are more similar to things you find in the inorganic world, for 
unknown reasons. If this turns out to be on the right track, it would be 
even more remarkable in that same sense because the last thing you 
would expect of a biological system is that it would be anything like 
optimally designed. 

DB Is this input coming from students and colleagues? 

A lot of it’s work of mine, but of course it’s all highly interactive. 
These are all very cooperative enterprises. I have a course every fall 
which is a sort of lecture-seminar. People show up for it from all over 
the place. It’s developed a certain pattern over the past thirty or forty 
years. A lot of faculty show up from other universities, other disciplines. 
There are many people who have been sitting in for twenty and thirty 
years, people from other universities. A lot of people come from the 
whole northeast region, from Canada and Maryland. There are plenty of 
European visitors. It’s a very lively, ongoing sort of lecture-seminar. I 
lecture and then there’s a lot of discussion. It’s dealing with questions at 
the borders of research, always. Sometimes it’s really interesting. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


Sometimes it’s not so interesting. This last fall, in fact the last two years, 
particularly this fall, a lot of things fell together as I was lecturing. I’m 
writing them up right now. 

DB That’s great. I'm excited for you, too, that you find your work 

I always find it engaging, but as I say, there’s a rhythm. Sometimes 
it’s more a matter of patchwork within a framework, and sometimes it’s 
a matter of suddenly seeing another way of looking at things which 
seems to cut through a lot of problems and to have exciting prospects. 
This is maybe the most interesting thing I've thought of, at least. 
Whether it’s right or not is another question. 

DB And given that, and this vital work that you’re involved with, I 
was wondering if any thoughts of retiring come up. 

Sure. I have to at my age. And there are also questions about what’s 
the best way of developing continuity in the department, and the impact 
on the field, and there’s personal life, and so on. There are so many 
things I want to do. There’s also the question of distribution of time and 

DB How’s your health? 


DB That’s not a major consideration? 


Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


DB Over the last few weeks I was rereading your book Turning the 
Tide, in particular the section on the right-wing counterattack and 
specifically the growth and power of right-wing institutions and 

That’s interesting. I was just reading the same thing. 

DB You were ? 

In fact, the article that I have in Z begins by referring back to some of 
the things that were going on in 1980 and 1984, those elections. It 
starts with some of my comments adapted from that very section. The 
analogy is so striking. 

DB That’s what I thought, too. I wonder if the recent . . . 

It’s just like a repeat. 

DB The November 1994 election. 

But what happened, and the fraud about what happened are 

DB The fraud being . . . 

One of the points I made back then — this is in the mid-1980s — is 
that both the 1980 and the 1984 elections were called “conservative 
landslides," “great Reagan revolutions,” etc. But in fact, what happened 
was quite different. The population was continuing to move away from 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


Reaganite-type politics. Virtually no one in the general population saw 
what they call “conservatism” as an issue. It was 4% or 8% or 
something. Reagan, of course, had under a third of the electorate. But 
furthermore, of the voters, most of them wanted his legislative program 
not to be enacted because they opposed it. What was actually 
happening there was a vote against. People felt remote from the system, 
didn’t like what was going on, opposed everything that was happening. 
Their own concerns and interests, which were sort of New Deal-style 
liberalism, roughly, were simply not being articulated at all in the 
political system, so they either didn’t vote, or they voted against. But 
also, though maybe they liked Reagan’s smile more than Mondale’s 
frown, they also, of people who had an opinion, about 70% of the voters 
were opposed to Reagan’s policies. Of the non-voters it was much 

That’s pretty much what happened this time. The reason it was 
called a “conservative landslide” then was because elite groups wanted 
it that way. They wanted to tear apart the rather weak remnants of 
welfare state policies and redirect social policy even more than usual 
towards the interests of the powerful and the privileged. So that’s what 
they wanted. That’s the way they interpreted the vote. That’s across the 
spectrum. That includes liberals for the most part. Pretty much the same 
is true now. So if you look at the latest vote, the 1992 vote and the 
1994 vote were virtually identical, with a couple of percentage points 
difference, largely attributable to the fact that the voting was skewed 
even more toward the wealthy than is usual. 

Among non-voters, who are, of course, the big majority, the 
overwhelming number call themselves “pro-democrat," but what they 
mean by “democrat” is something that wasn’t represented in the current 
election. The opposition to “New Democrats” of the Clinton variety was 
much higher than to what are called “traditional” Democrats, traditional 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


liberals. If you look at the outcome, the Democrats who tried to mobilize 
the traditional constituencies, like labor and women, they did rather 
well. The ones who got smashed were the Clinton-style “New 
Democrats." If you look at opinion polls, you can see why. Public 
opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to the policies that are shared by 
Gingrich and Clinton, on just about every issue. But most people simply 
don’t feel themselves represented. When asked, for example, whether 
they thought that having a conservative Congress was an important 
issue, in this election, about 12% of voters said, Yes. Virtually no one, in 
other words. It’s very similar to the early 1980s. The reason why it’s 
described this way, I’m sure, is that these are the policies that the 
privileged and the powerful want. So they’re going to claim that they 
have a popular mandate for them, even though they don’t. It’ll mean a 
further narrowing of the spectrum towards the right by choice. Not under 
popular pressure, but by choice of elites. That’s what they want. And it’s 
not surprising that they want it. It’s good for them. 

Clinton and his advisors decided to interpret the vote as meaning that 
they should move even further to an unpopular position than they 
already were, instead of interpreting it to mean, We ought to speak to 
the majority of the population who are opposed to what we’re doing, 
and even more opposed to what the Republicans are doing. So they 
interpret it that way, despite their own polls, which showed the 
opposite, because that’s the conclusion they want to draw. 

DB But tell me one thing: As / recall, in the 1980s, during the 
Reagan period, the elite corporate media pretty much welcomed 
Reaganomics and the whole Reagan program, whereas this time one 
reads in the New York Times and the Washington Post scathing 
critiques of Gingrich, really strong criticisms. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


That was before the election. It’s toned down since then. The 
Gingrich program has several aspects to it. He wants to focus on what 
he calls “cultural issues.” That makes sense, because when you’re going 
to rob people blind you don’t want to have them focus their attention on 
economic issues. The second is the actual programs, robbing people 
blind and enriching the rich. On those programs, I don’t see that there is 
much opposition from the corporate media. For example, you read 
today’s editorials. Did they condemn Clinton for yesterday announcing 
that he was going to make government leaner and cut back support for 
nuclear waste disposal and so on? I doubt it. I haven’t read the papers 

What they do oppose, however, and are very upset about, is what 
they call the Gingrich-style “cultural offensive," because that in fact is 
attacking the values of the elite as well. I think there’s a kind of internal 
contradiction there that elite groups are having a hard time coming to 
terms with. In order to push through the social policies that really 
interest them, like distributing resources even more to the rich than 
before and reducing the status of the general population and 
marginalizing them even more than before — in order to carry that off, 
they have to develop at least some kind of popular support. You have to 
mobilize some support for what you’re doing. You can’t do that on the 
social and economic issues. So therefore you turn to what they call 
“cultural issues." There’s something that resembles the 1930s about 
this, Germany in the 1930s. You try to mobilize people on something 
else. So a large part of the focus of attention in the Gingrich program is 
what he calls “rebuilding American civilization,” which means cutting 
back on rights of women, prayer in the schools, narrowing the spectrum 
of discussion, attacking civil liberties, and so on. Those are things that 
rich and powerful people don’t like, because they benefit from those. 
First of all, they tend to be what is called “liberal” on cultural values. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


They want the kind of freedom that would be undermined if the Gingrich 
types actually were serious about this talk. So you get a kind of 
contradiction. You see it very clearly. 

For example, the New York Times a couple of weeks ago had an 
editorial defending the counterculture. 

DB That was astounding. 

I didn’t think it was astounding at all. 

DB You didn’t? 

It was fairly natural. Because what they think of as the “counter- 
culture” is what they themselves approve of. And if you did a poll among 
corporate executives, they would agree. They don’t want to have their 
kids forced to pray in school. They don’t want to have religious 
fundamentalists telling them what to do. They want their wives and 
daughters to have opportunities, abortion rights and other forms of 
freedom. They don’t want to restore the kind of values, for themselves in 
their personal lives, that Gingrich is talking about. That’s the kind of 
counterculture that they’re defending. So I didn’t think that it was 

On the other hand, there was an even more dramatic article, I 
thought, a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days 
ago which actually talked about “class war" and “economic classes." 
These are terms that are unusable in the U.S., but now they’re using 
them. It’s extremely interesting to see how they’re putting it. They said 
that there is a class war developing between ordinary working-class 
blokes, that’s one side, and they’re an economic class — they said that — - 
and then the elites who are oppressing them, who happen to be the 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


liberals. The elites who are oppressing them are the elitist liberals with 
their crazy countercultural values. Who stands up for the ordinary 
working-class blokes? The so-called conservatives, who are in fact doing 
everything they can to destroy them. That’s the class war. They 
apparently feel confident enough about their own takeover of the 
doctrinal system, which is also discussed in this 1985 book [Turning 
the Tide] that you mentioned. They feel confident enough about that 
that they’re willing to even allow words like “class war” and “class 
conflict” as long as the ruling class is identified as the people who 
espouse these liberal, countercultural values. It’s not a total perversion 
of reality. If you go to the actual, real ruling class, the people who own 
and invest and speculate and CEOs and the rest of them, they do 
generally share these so-called “liberal" values. That’s why you find 
these rather striking internal contradictions, I think. On the one hand, 
Gingrich is following a propaganda line which is almost required if you 
want to be able to carry off a major attack against the population. But 
the elements of that propaganda line, at least taken literally, also strike 
at the interests of the rich and powerful. There is an internal 
contradiction there, and I think that’s why you’re seeing things like that 
Times editorial. 

DB That was on Sunday, December 11, 1994. I just want to 
mention one thing from that. They called the Vietnam policy 
“deranged. ” 

But you see, that’s an old story. 

DB / don’t recall them using that adjective during the period. 

That goes back to the early 1960s, when they were saying, These 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


guys are crazy. They don’t know how to win the war. 

DB So you think it’s the pragmatists. 

Are they saying the aggression in South Vietnam was immoral? 
They’re saying it was deranged. Look at this crazy thing — we were 
devoting our lives and energies and effort to save people who couldn’t be 
saved because they were so valueless. That’s back to David Halberstam 
in the early 1960s. The so-called critics were the people who said, You 
guys aren’t doing it right. Anthony Lewis, when he finally became 
articulate against the war around 1970, said it began with blundering 
efforts to do good but ended up as a disaster. So it was deranged. 

DB More on this class war issue. If the Republican right-wing 
economic initiative, which is essentially an attack on the poor . . . 

“Poor” is a funny word for it. It’s an attack on maybe three-quarters 
of the population. 

DB Might not elites be concerned in that it would result in social 
instability and uprisings like Los Angeles? 

That’s why they have this huge crime bill, and they want to extend 
the crime bill. They want to criminalize a large part of the population. 
They have been working on this for some time. I think what’s actually 
going on, in my opinion, if you go back to the 1970s, it began to 
appear, because of changes in the international economy, as if it might 
be possible for real ruling groups to do something that they’ve always 
hoped to do but couldn’t, namely to roll back everything connected with 
the social contract that had been won by working people and poor 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


people over a century of struggle. There was a kind of social contract. I 
think they think they can roll it back. They can go right back to the days 
of satanic mills (to use William Blake’s phrase) where they believe they 
have enough weapons against the population — and it’s not 

implausible — that they can destroy human rights, eliminate the curse of 
democracy, except in a purely formal way, move power into the hands of 
absolutist, unaccountable institutions which will run the world in their 
own interests, without looking at anyone else, enhance private power, 
and eliminate workers’ rights, political rights, the right to food, destroy it 
all. Eliminate what used to be called the right to live. There was a battle 
about this in the early nineteenth century, and they couldn’t quite carry 
it off. Now I think they think they can carry it off. That means in effect 
turning the industrialized countries into a kind of Third World, a kind of 
Latin America. That means for a sector of the population great wealth 
and privilege and enormous government protection, because none of 
these people believe in a free market or anything remotely like it. They 
want a powerful welfare state, directing resources and protection to 
them. So on the one hand you have a powerful welfare state for a small 
sector of the population. For the rest, those who you need to do the dirty 
work, you pay them a pittance, and if they won’t do it, get somebody 
else. A large part of them are just superfluous. You don’t need them at 
all. In the Third World, maybe you send out death squads. Here you 
don’t quite send out death squads, so you lock them into urban slums 
which are more or less urban concentration camps and make sure they 
don’t have any resources there so it will collapse and deteriorate. If that 
won't work, just throw them into jail. 

DB Do you see any resistance to these policies developing? 

Organized resistance? In a sense, but it’s not constructive. For 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


example, the vote in 1994 was a sort of resistance. It was an over- 
whelming vote against everything that’s going on. But it didn’t take a 
constructive form. 

DB 61% of the population didn’t vote. 

Yeah, but that’s normal. Most people think it’s all a joke. But even of 
those who voted, take a look at the minority who voted. I forget the 
exact numbers, but I think it was about a 6 to 1 vote against. Which is 
very similar to 1980, except that it’s much more extreme now because 
we’ve had fifteen years of Reaganism. It started late in the Carter era, 
went through the Reagan years, and it’s continuing through Clinton. 
That means a continuing increase in inequality, continuing literally the 
absolute reduction in standard of living for a majority of the population. 
It was stagnation for a while. It’s been reduction since the 1980s. It’s 
going down more during the Clinton years. What’s remarkable now is 
that this is the first time ever, maybe, that during a period of economic 
recovery general living standards and economic standards have been 
declining. The Census Bureau just came out with figures for 1993, after 
two years of so-called recovery. The median income, where half is 
above, half below, has declined 7% since 1989. It’s very unusual, 
maybe unprecedented for a recovery. Just this morning, did you get the 
New York Times this morning? 

DB Yeah, I’ve got it. 

Have a look. They report the Clinton budget cuts, etc. On the inside 
page, Section B, the continuation of the story, there’s almost a full page 
devoted to the continuation of that. Then, on the right-hand column, 
there’s an article reporting the latest conference of mayors. If you 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


haven’t read it, read it. It’s interesting. The conference of mayors' report 
points out the number of people desperately needing food and housing 
has sharply increased. I think the numbers are in the range of 15% or 
something like that. A big proportion of them are simply being denied it 
because the cities don’t have the resources. For that to be happening 
during a recovery — for that to be happening in a rich country is 
scandalous anyway. But for it to be happening in a period of recovery, 
an increase in starvation and homelessness, a sharp increase, enough 
that the conference of mayors made a report and did a bitter protest 
against federal policies, that’s pretty astonishing. 

People are aware that things are bad, but they don’t have a 
constructive way to respond. For example, there’s nothing in the political 
system. The polls and opinion studies and so on, including the exit polls 
after the last election, made it pretty clear what would be a winning 
policy in the political arena, namely, something that has a kind of 
populist, reformist, social democratic-type character. That would 
probably get a large majority of the population, judging by public 
attitudes. But nobody is going to say that, because they all want 
something else. 

It was kind of interesting during the campaign to see how both sides 
covered up some very striking issues. Take, say, Newt Gingrich, who is 
just smashing the Democrats with all of his talk about a “nanny state" 
and a welfare state and get the government off our backs and you guys 
have been ruining the world with your nanny state. Fie was killing the 
Democrats with this. I couldn’t find one person, either in the so-called 
liberal press or among the Democrats themselves, who made the 
obvious rejoinder: You’re the biggest advocate in the country of the 
nanny state, or certainly one of the biggest ones. As I think you know, 
Gingrich’s constituency, his district, gets more federal subsidies than any 
suburban county in the country outside the federal system. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Looking Ahead 


DB That's Cobb County, right outside of Atlanta. 

Take away Arlington, Virginia, which is part of Washington, and the 
Florida home of the Kennedy Space Center, and Cobb County is first. 
That’s the nanny state. They are the beneficiaries of social policies 
which direct public resources toward the rich. A lot of it is through the 
Pentagon, which has that domestic function. 

DB Lockheed is based in Cobb County. 

Lockheed is their main employer. Besides that it’s mainly things like 
computers and electronics, which is very heavily public-subsidized, and 
insurance. Why is insurance a place where you can make a lot of 
money? It’s because the social policy is to ensure that private power, 
meaning insurance companies, runs huge programs. The most striking is 
the health program. That’s public policy. Sane countries don’t have that. 
So his constituency is in fact the beneficiaries of the nanny state to an 
extent beyond probably any other in the country outside the federal 

To get back to my point, no Democrat pointed this out that I could 
see. And the reason is, I suspect, that they agree. They don’t want to 
expose that, even at the cost of seriously losing elections and control of 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 


The Return of Predatory Capitalism 

January 31 and February 3, 1995 

DB You just came back from a trip to Australia. Was it your first 
visit to the country? 

It was indeed my first visit to Australia. I was there for eight or nine 
days, a pretty constant schedule of talks and interviews, the usual stuff. 
There was the usual range of topics with enormous and very interested 
audiences. There was a lot of radio and television. The main invitation 
was from the East Timor Relief Association. There is a substantial 
Timorese community there. I gave talks primarily on East Timor. That 
was one major focus. And of course on Australia’s policies towards East 
Timor and other things, also domestic economic policies. 

The timing turned out to be very propitious. A major case opened at 
the World Court yesterday. I haven’t seen it reported here, but it’s being 
reported widely in the world press and of course extensively in Australia. 
The case involves Portugal and Australia. It has to do with the robbery of 
the oil of East Timor in a treaty signed between Australia and Indonesia. 
One primary reason (we know from leaked diplomatic cables and so on) 
for the Western support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, which 
was sort of near genocidal, was the fact that they thought they could 
make a better deal on robbing the oil resources with Indonesia than they 
could either with Portugal, which was the administering power, or an 



independent East Timor. That was stated very explicitly in diplomatic 
cables during the period when the governments were pretending that 
they didn’t know that the invasion was imminent. But of course they did 
know. So that’s a big issue now. Both the World Court hearing and the 
very fact that this is taking place, which is kind of as if Libya had made 
a deal with Iraq to exploit Kuwait’s oil when they hadn’t been driven out. 
It’s roughly like that. So that was one big issue. And since it is just 
coming up to the World Court, that was timely. 

The other thing was that, in fact as I landed at the airport, the first 
headline that greeted me in the national newspaper, The Australian, 
was that Australia agreed to sell advanced assault rifles to Indonesia, 
which of course are not to be used to defend Indonesia from China. 
They’re being used for internal repression and the military occupation of 
East Timor, where the fighting is still going on and the repression is very 
severe. The point is that Australia found a niche market, because the 
U.S. had backed away from that, finally, under lots of pressure here, 
Congressional and popular pressure. The U.S. finally got to the point of 
withholding some arms, at least small arms, from the killers. Australia 
instantly moved in. The cynicism of that is a little hard to miss. You 
have to remember people in Australia know, even if they don’t read 
about it in schoolbooks, but they remember, that about 60,000 
Timorese were killed during the Second World War. The island of Timor 
was divided, half was a Portuguese colony and half was Dutch. The 
Portuguese part would have probably remained neutral through the war, 
like Macao, which was another Portuguese colony. Japan never violated 
its neutrality. Portugal was a fascist country. It was a semi-ally. So 
chances are Timor would have remained neutral. Anyhow, Australia 
invaded, and about ten days after Pearl Harbor the Japanese counter- 
invaded. There were a couple hundred Australian commandos there. 
They were able to survive, the ones that did, mostly because of 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



assistance from Timorese. Otherwise they would have been wiped out 
instantly. Then they finally were withdrawn, but of course the Timorese 
were left. The ones that the Japanese thought had supported them were 
totally slaughtered. That fighting on Timor — if you look at the geography 
you'll see how it works. The Japanese might well have gone on to invade 
Australia. In fact they were going to. They never did. They bombed, but 
they never invaded. And probably the fighting on Timor stopped them. 
So 60,000 Timorese dead certainly saved a lot of lives of Australian 
commandos, and may have saved Australia from being invaded. 

To repay that debt by being the only country in the world to officially 
recognize the occupation, to steal their oil, to arm the murderers, 
doesn’t go over very well in the population. And there’s also been 
tremendous cynicism in the government in justifying this. There’s a kind 
of backlog of resentment and concern, plus the fact that it’s right next 
door, so they get Timorese refugees. So it’s a big issue. 

DB You also gave a presentation on anarchy. Is there a lively 
anarchist movement in Australia? 

I’m not in much of a position to say. The meeting was at the town 
hall in Sydney. There were a couple of thousand people there, and it 
was overflowing. They had had an all-day conference with plenty of 
people, so something’s lively. You know what these trips are like, you 
run from one talk to another. I can’t really comment on what the 
movements are like. 

DB / had a glimpse of what you go through. In November I was in 
Seattle and Olympia. I gave three public talks, three interviews, and a 
workshop in a day and a half. At the end of that time, my brains were 
completely fried. I had no idea what I’d said to whom. I was wondering, 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



how do you keep not just your equilibrium and equanimity, but that 
separation of what you said? 

As far as I know, I have only one talent. I'm not trying to be modest. I 
think I know what I'm good at and what I’m not good at. The one talent 
that I have which I know many other friends don’t seem to have is I’ve 
got some quirk in my brain which makes it work like separate buffers in 
a computer. If you play around with a computer you know you can put 
things in different places and they just stay there and you can go back to 
them whenever you feel like it and they’re there. I can somehow do that. 

I can write a very technical paper in snatches: a piece on an airplane, 
another piece three weeks later, six months later finally get back to it 
and pick up where I left off. Somehow I don’t have any problem 
switching very quickly from one thing to another. I have some other 
friends like this. I had one, a well-known logician in Israel, who was a 
very close friend. We would see each other every five or six years. We 
would always just pick up the conversation where we had left it off, 
without any break, without even noticing it, particularly. We didn’t even 
notice it until people seemed to find it strange. 

DB Did your thoughts while you were in Australia ever turn to Alex 
Carey, the man you dedicated Manufacturing Consent to? 

Very much so. In fact, I was there for a book launch. His book of 
posthumous essays, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, was published 
by the University of New South Wales, where he taught. I wrote an 
introduction to it, in fact. One of the things I did was to go to the launch 
of the book and talk about it a bit and meet the family. I also met some 
old friends who I knew through and with Alex when he visited here years 
back, so there was a lot of personal stuff, too. 

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Noam Chomsky 



DB What's memorable about his work ? What was his contribution? 

Alex Carey did the pioneering work in an extremely important field 
which in fact has yet to be investigated. That’s the field of corporate 
propaganda, which is a major phenomenon in the modern world and 
almost unstudied. His most important essay “Changing Public Opinion: 
The Corporate Offensive,” which has been circulating underground for 
years (I’ve duplicated and circulated endless copies myself) was never 
published in his lifetime. It’s in the new collection. It opens by pointing 
out — he says it better than this — that there have been three major 
phenomena in the twentieth century with regard to democracy. One is 
the extension of the franchise, which was broad. The second was the 
growth of corporations. The third was the growth of corporate 
propaganda to undermine democracy. And he’s exactly right. That’s why 
we have a public relations industry. It was established approximately at 
the time that corporations reached their current form early in the 
century. It was created in order, as they put it, to “control the public 
mind,” because they recognized that the public mind would be the 
greatest hazard facing industrialists, and they understood that 
democracy is a real threat to private tyranny, just as it’s a threat to state 
tyranny. Now, we are in a system of private tyranny, which was being 
established early in the century, and very consciously so. In fact it was 
consciously established as an attack on individual liberty. That’s a part 
of corporate law which is only known in scholarly circles. 

Part of this was to ensure that democracy couldn’t function. And 
since you have some degree of state violence, but limited degrees, 
especially with the increase in the franchise and participation, it was 
understood right off that you have to control opinion. That led to the 
huge public relations industry and massive propaganda campaigns, 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



efforts to sell Americanism and harmony and to sell American 
capitalism. People are deluged with propaganda on this through the 
Advertising Council and radio and television and other media. It’s very 
conscious. Carey is the first person to have seriously studied it, and 
almost the last person. Now there’s a little literature on it coming along, 
primarily an excellent study called Selling Free Enterprise, by Elizabeth 
Fones-Wolf published by the University of Illinois Press, focusing on the 
post-World War II period. Fones-Wolf adds a great deal of new material 
on the extraordinary scale of the propaganda efforts “to indoctrinate 
people with the capitalist story,” and the dedicated self-consciousness 
with which “the everlasting battle for the minds of men" was pursued. 
It’s a topic of such incredible significance in the twentieth century that it 
ought to be a major focus. We are immersed in it all the time. It explains 
a lot. The U.S. is different from other countries in this respect. It has a 
much more class-conscious business community, for all kinds of 
historical reasons. It didn’t develop out of feudalism and aristocracy. So 
there weren’t the conflicting factors you had in other places — the highly 
class-conscious business community, very Marxist in character, vulgar 
Marxist, fighting a bitter class war, and very aware of it. You read 
internal publications and it’s like reading Maoist pamphlets half the 
time. They don’t spend billions of dollars a year on propaganda for the 
fun of it. They do it with a purpose. For a long time the purpose was to 
resist and contain human rights and democracy and the whole welfare 
state framework, the social contract, that developed over the years. They 
wanted to contain it and limit it. Now they feel, in the current period, 
that they can really roll it back. They’d go right back to satanic mills, 
murdering poor people, basically the social structure of the early 
nineteenth century. That’s the situation we’re in right now. These huge 
propaganda offensives are a major part of it. 

The real importance of Carey’s work is that it’s the first effort and 

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until now the major effort to bring some of this to public attention. It’s 
had a tremendous influence on the work I’ve done. Ed Herman and I 
dedicated our book, Manufacturing Consent, to him. He had just died. It 
was not intended as just a symbolic gesture. He got both of us started in 
a lot of this work. 

DB You just mentioned “rollback. ” It’s also the title of a series of 
essays in Z magazine that you just wrote. That was originally a Cold 
War term. 

I picked it up from there. The standard line, if you read the Clinton 
Doctrine as announced by Anthony Lake, the intellectual in the 
administration, is that for years we’ve been involved in containment of a 
threat to market democracy. Now we’re going to enlarge it. So he’s 
picking Cold War imagery. And I think that Cold War imagery is 
appropriate, except that he’s got it backwards. For years we’ve been 
involved in containment of democracy, freedom, human rights, and even 
markets, and now we’re going to be able to roll them back. “Rollback" is 
another Cold War term, as you mentioned. The traditional Cold War 
policies were that we oscillate between containment and rollback. 
Containment is Kennan’s policy. You prevent the Soviet power from 
expanding. That’s containment. 

Rollback has been, in fact, official U.S. policy since 1950. NSC-68, 
the core Cold War doctrine, is an advocacy of rollback. That’s when 
Kennan was thrown out and Nitze and others came in. Rollback meant 
we undermine and destroy Soviet power and we reach negotiations with 
“a successor state or states," as the NSC put it. These traditional 
international Cold War notions are, I think, very appropriate, except that 
they’re misplaced. Containment is in fact correct, but it wasn’t 
containment of a Soviet threat. It was containment of the threat of 

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Noam Chomsky 



freedom, democracy, human rights, other threats to authority. And now 
they feel they can move on to roll back and unravel the entire social 
contract which developed through large-scale popular struggle over a 
century and a half, which did sort of soften the edges of predatory 
private tyranny, and often softened them a lot. In Germany, for example, 
workers have fairly reasonable conditions. So that has to be rolled back, 
and we have to go back to the days when we had wage slavery, as it 
was called by working people in the nineteenth century. No rights. The 
only rights you get are the rights you gain on the labor market. If your 
children can’t make enough money to survive, they starve. Your choices 
are the workhouse prison, the labor market, whatever you can get there. 
Or, if you go back to the early days of the 1820s, the line was, “Or go 
somewhere else.” Meaning, go to the places where white settlers are 
massacring the indigenous populations and opening them up, like the 
U.S. and Australia, for example. 

Of course, now that option is gone. You don’t go somewhere else. So 
the choices are limited to the other two, as the founders of modern 
economics, like Ricardo and Malthus and others, pointed out: 
workhouse prison or starvation, or whatever you can gain on the labor 
market. You don’t have any rights on the labor market. It’s just a 
market. That in fact is the foundation of the intellectual tradition that is 
called classical economics now, neoliberalism, and so on. 

The idea is to go right back to those choices, with one crucial 
difference. There’s a little secret that everybody knows but you’re not 
supposed to say, and that is that nobody who advocated this believed a 
word of it. They always wanted a very powerful state which intervenes 
massively, but it’s a welfare state for the rich. That’s the way the U.S. 
was founded. In fact, the U.S. pioneered that development. It’s been the 
most protectionist of all the industrial societies. It’s a well-known fact. 
Alexander Hamilton is the one who invented the concept of infant 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



industry protection and modern protectionism. The U.S. has always 
been a pioneer and a bastion of protectionism, which is why it’s a rich, 
powerful country. Another slight secret of economic history, again well 
known to scholars, is that the free market policies have been an utter 
disaster. Anyone who is subjected to them gets smashed, which is why 
the Third World looks the way it is. They were forced on the Third 
World. And every single developed society has radically violated those 
principles, the U.S. more than most. That’s closely correlated with 
growth. If you look historically, protectionism is actually correlated with 
trade, even. The more protectionism, the more trade, for a simple 
reason: protectionism enhances growth, and growth enhances trade. 
That was generally true over quite a long period. And protectionism is 
only one form of state intervention. 

For poor people and working people, they have to be subjected to 
market discipline. That part is true. But the other side, which is less 
said, is that rich people are going to have a nanny state protecting and 
subsidizing them, and a powerful one. 

DB One of the heroes of the current right-wing revival — I’m not 
going to use the term “ conservative ” — is Mam Smith. You’ve done 
some pretty impressive research on Smith that has excavated, as the 
postmodernists would say, a lot of information that’s not coming out. 
You’ve often quoted him describing the "vile maxim of the masters of 
mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people. ” 

I didn't do any research at all on Smith. I just read him. There’s no 
research. Just read it. He’s pre-capitalist, a figure of the Enlightenment. 
What we would call capitalism he despised. People read snippets of 
Adam Smith, the few phrases they teach in school. Everybody reads the 
first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations where he talks about how 

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wonderful the division of labor is. But not many people get to the point 
hundreds of pages later, where he says that division of labor will destroy 
human beings and turn them into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it 
is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized 
society the government is going to have to take some measures to 
prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits. 

He did give an argument for markets, but the argument was that 
under conditions of perfect liberty, markets will lead to perfect equality. 
That’s the argument for them, because he thought equality of condition 
(not just opportunity) is what you should be aiming at. It goes on and 
on. He gave a devastating critique of what we would call North-South 
policies. He was talking about England and India. He bitterly 
condemned the British experiments they were carrying out which were 
devastating India. 

He also made remarks which ought to be truisms about the way 
states work. He pointed out that it’s totally senseless to talk about a 
nation and what we would nowadays call “national interests.” He simply 
observed in passing, because it’s so obvious, that in England, which is 
what he’s discussing — and it was the most democratic society of the 
day — the principal architects of policy are the “merchants and 
manufacturers," and they make certain that their own interests are, in 
his words, “most peculiarly attended to," no matter what the effect on 
others, including the people of England, who, he argued, suffered from 
their policies. He didn’t have the data to prove it at the time, but he was 
probably right. 

This truism was a century later called class analysis, but you don't 
have to go to Marx to find it. It’s very explicit in Adam Smith. It’s so 
obvious that any ten-year-old can see it. So he didn’t make a big point of 
it. He just mentioned it. But that’s correct. If you read through his work, 
he’s intelligent. He’s a person who was from the Enlightenment. His 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



driving motives were the assumption that people are guided by 
sympathy and feelings of solidarity and the need for control of their own 
work, much like other Enlightenment and early Romantic thinkers. He’s 
part of that period, the Scottish Enlightenment. 

The version of him that’s given today is just ridiculous. But I didn’t 
have to do any research to find this out. All you have to do is read. If 
you're literate, you’ll find it out. I did do a little research in the way it’s 
treated, and that’s interesting. For example, the University of Chicago, 
the great bastion of free market economics, etc., etc., published a 
bicentennial edition of the hero, a scholarly edition with all the footnotes 
and the introduction by a Nobel Prize winner, George Stigler, a huge 
index, a real scholarly edition. That’s the one I used. It’s the best 
edition. The scholarly framework was very interesting, including Stigler’s 
introduction. It’s likely he never opened The Wealth of Nations. Just 
about everything he said about the book was completely false. I went 
through a bunch of examples in writing about it, in Year 501 and 

But even more interesting in some ways was the index. Adam Smith 
is very well known for his advocacy of division of labor. Take a look at 
“division of labor” in the index and there are lots and lots of things 
listed. But there’s one missing, namely his denunciation of division of 
labor, the one I just cited. That’s somehow missing from the index. It 
goes on like this. I wouldn’t call this research, because it’s ten minutes’ 
work, but if you look at the scholarship, then it’s interesting. 

I want to be clear about this. There is good Smith scholarship. If you 
look at the serious Smith scholarship, nothing I’m saying is any surprise 
to anyone. How could it be? You open the book and you read it and it’s 
staring you right in the face. On the other hand, if you look at the myth 
of Adam Smith, which is the only one we get, the discrepancy between 
that and the reality is enormous. 

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Noam Chomsky 



This is true of classical liberalism in general. The founders of classical 
liberalism, people like Adam Smith and Wilhelm von Humboldt, who is 
one of the great exponents of classical liberalism, and who inspired John 
Stuart Mill — they were what we would call libertarian socialists, at least 
that’s the way I read them. For example, Humboldt, like Smith, says, 
Consider a craftsman who builds some beautiful thing. Humboldt says if 
he does it under external coercion, like pay, for wages, we may admire 
what he does but we will despise what he is. On the other hand, if he 
does it out of his own free, creative expression of himself, under free 
will, not under external coercion of wage labor, then we also admire 
what he is because he’s a human being. He said any decent 
socioeconomic system will be based on the assumption that people have 
the freedom to inquire and create — since that’s the fundamental nature 
of humans — in free association with others, but certainly not under the 
kinds of external constraints that later came to be called capitalism. 

It’s the same when you read Jefferson. He lived a half century later, 
so he saw state capitalism developing, and he despised it, of course. He 
said it’s going to lead to a form of absolutism worse than the one we 
defended ourselves against. In fact, if you run through this whole period 
you see a very clear, sharp critique of what we would later call 
capitalism and certainly of the twentieth-century version of it, which is 
designed in fact to destroy individual, even entrepreneurial capitalism. 

There’s a side current here which is rarely looked at but which is also 
quite fascinating. That’s the working class literature of the nineteenth 
century. They didn’t read Adam Smith and Wilhelm von Humboldt, but 
they’re saying the same things. Read journals put out by the people 
called the “factory girls of Lowell,” young women in the factories, 
mechanics, and other working people who were running their own 
newspapers. It’s the same kind of critique. There was a real battle 
fought by working people in England and the U.S. to defend themselves 

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against what they called the degradation and oppression and violence of 
the industrial capitalist system, which was not only dehumanizing them 
but was even radically reducing their intellectual level. So you go back to 
the mid-nineteenth century and these so-called “factory girls," young 
girls working in the Lowell mills, were reading serious contemporary 
literature. They recognized that the point of the system was to turn them 
into tools who would be manipulated, degraded, kicked around, and so 
on. And they fought against it bitterly for a long period. That’s the history 
of the rise of capitalism. 

The other part of the story is the development of corporations, which 
is an interesting story in itself. Adam Smith didn’t say much about them, 
but he did criticize the early stages of them. Jefferson lived long enough 
to see the beginnings, and he was very strongly opposed to them. But 
the development of corporations really took place in the early twentieth 
century and very late in the nineteenth century. Originally corporations 
existed as a public service. People would get together to build a bridge 
and they would be incorporated for that purpose by the state. They built 
the bridge and that’s it. They were supposed to have a public interest 
function. Well into the 1870s, states were removing corporate charters. 
They were granted by the state. They didn’t have any other authority. 
They were fictions. They were removing corporate charters because they 
weren’t serving a public function. But then you get into the period of 
trusts and various efforts to consolidate power that were beginning to be 
made in the late nineteenth century. It’s interesting to look at the 
literature. The courts didn’t really accept it. There were some hints about 
it. It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that courts and lawyers 
designed a new socioeconomic system. It was never done by legislation. 
It was done mostly by courts and lawyers and the power they could 
exercise over individual states. New Jersey was the first state that 
granted corporations any right they wanted. Of course, all the capital in 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



the country suddenly started to flow to New Jersey, for obvious reasons. 
Then the other states had to do the same thing just to defend 
themselves or be wiped out. It’s kind of a small-scale globalization. Then 
the courts and the corporate lawyers came along and created a whole 
new body of doctrine which gave corporations authority and power that 
they had never had before. If you look at the background of it, it’s the 
same background that led to fascism and Bolshevism. A lot of it was 
supported by people called progressives, for these reasons: They said, 
individual rights are gone. We are in a period of corporatization of 
power, consolidation of power, centralization. That’s supposed to be 
good if you’re a progressive, like a M a rx i st- Leninist. Out of that same 
background came three major things: fascism, Bolshevism, and 
corporate tyranny. They all grew out of the same more or less Hegelian 
roots. It’s fairly recent. We think of corporations as immutable, but they 
were designed. It’s a conscious design which worked as Adam Smith 
said: the principal architects of policy consolidate state power and use it 
for their interests. It was certainly not popular will. It’s basically court 
decisions and lawyers' decisions, which created a form of private 
tyranny which is now more massive in many ways than even state 
tyranny was. These are major parts of modern twentieth-century history. 
The classical liberals would be horrified. They didn’t even imagine this. 
But the smaller things that they saw, they were already horrified about. 
This would have totally scandalized Adam Smith or Jefferson or anyone 
like that. 

DB Let's make a connection between corporations and East Timor 
and Indonesia. Nike is the world’s largest manufacturer of sneakers 
and sportswear. It’s headquarters is in Beaverton, Oregon, right outside 
of Portland. Some years ago they had set up factories in South Korea. 
South Korean workers started unionizing and demanding better pay 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



and better working conditions. Nike moved their operations to 
Indonesia, where they pay workers $1.35 a day. Nike makes these 
sneakers in Indonesia for $5.40 and sells them in the U.S. for $60, 
$70, $80. 

Indonesia has been a great favorite of the West, ever since 1965, 
when a huge massacre took place. They slaughtered maybe half a 
million or so people and destroyed the one popular political party there, 
which was, as everyone from right to left agrees, defending the interests 
of the poor. This slaughter was welcomed with absolute euphoria in the 
West. I’ve reviewed some of the press coverage. Since Indonesia is a 
pretty rich country, lots of resources, it’s what’s been called a “paradise" 
for investors. It is a brutal, repressive state which prevents any labor 
organizing or anything else, so wages can be very low. Indonesian wages 
are now half the level of China, which is not exactly high. At the 1994 
APEC conference, everybody went to Jakarta to celebrate the free 
market. As part of cleaning the place up, they threw all the labor leaders 
in jail. Some of them are in there for long sentences. Some of the 
sentences have just been increased. They don’t tolerate labor unions. 
There’s a Stalinist-style labor union run by the government. There have 
been attempts to create independent unions, but they have been brutally 
suppressed. So Nike’s happy, because the work force is — although 
they’re very militant and very courageous — brutally repressed by the 
state and kept way down. The country’s extremely rich. There’s a lot of 
wealth around, mostly in the hands of General Suharto and his family 
and their cronies and foreign investors. 

Even the invasion of East Timor, as I've mentioned, was motivated to 
a substantial extent by corporate robbery. A large part of the reason can 
be seen in an important leak of diplomatic cables from right before the 
invasion, around August 1975. These Australian cables first of all talked 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



directly about the complicity of the U.S., of Kissinger ordering the 
Jakarta Embassy not to report any more on what’s going on because the 
U.S. was going to support the invasion, as it did. Of course they publicly 
denied knowing anything about it The Australian Ambassador said, his 
words were something like this, We can make a better deal on East 
Timorese oil with Indonesia than we can with Portugal, the 
administering power, or with an independent East Timor. In fact, that is 
now exactly what’s going on. A few years later Australia recognized the 
occupation, the only Western country to recognize it, in the context of 
negotiations with Indonesia about the Timor Gap Treaty. There was a 
big massacre in Dili in 1991 which did focus the world’s attention on 
the occupation. A couple hundred people were murdered by Indonesian 
troops who made the mistake of doing it in front of a hidden television 
camera and beating up two American reporters. You're not supposed to 
do things like that. You’re supposed to do massacres in secret while 
nobody’s looking. They made that technical error, so there was a lot of 
coverage for a while. Immediately after that — and here the coverage 
declines, I have yet to see a word about it in the U.S., maybe in some of 
the business press — Australia and Indonesia granted licenses to major 
oil companies to begin drilling for Timorese oil. You have to recall that 
the official reason given as to why East Timor can’t be independent is 
that it doesn’t have any resources. That reason is given by the people 
who are robbing it of its oil resources, which are expected to be quite 

As I mentioned, there is now a World Court case in process right 
now — that you really don’t see coverage of. It’s on kind of technical 
issues. The World Court isn’t going to deal with the question of whether 
a country favored by the West is allowed to occupy and massacre other 
people. That’s beyond courts. But they will look at the technical side. 
The London Financial Times, a major business journal, just had a big 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



article on January 30th timed with the opening of the World Court 
hearing, describing it as one of the most important court trials ever, 
because it is going to establish the basis for commercial exploitation or, 
to be more accurate, robbery of the resources of a conquered people. It’s 
a major issue. That’s quite apart from the fact that with U.S. assistance 
Indonesia managed to slaughter maybe a quarter of the population, a 
couple hundred thousand people. And it’s still going on. 

DB I’d like to put readers In this office space for a moment. Your 
desk is pretty neat right now. There are usually even higher piles of 
books. There are at least six or seven piles, stacks of books and papers, 
and on your filing cabinets even more. How do you divide your labor? 
You’ve just been away for about two weeks. You come back and have 
this avalanche of mail, phone calls, things to read. How do you get 
through this? What are you prioritizing here? Is there an order to this 

First of all, it looks remarkably neat now because while I was away 
they did something really nasty. They painted and cleaned the office, 
which I never would have permitted while I was here. So it looks 
surprisingly clean. You may have noticed I’m trying to take care of that. 
So it does look neater than usual. But if you want to know what it’s like, 
you’ve been at our house. Around 4:30 this morning there was what we 
thought was an earthquake, a huge noise. Our bedroom is right next to 
the study. We went in and discovered that these big piles of books, six 
feet high, a couple of piles had fallen and were scattered all over the 
floor. That’s where I put the books that are urgent reading. Sometimes 
when I’ve having an extremely boring phone call, I try to calculate how 
many centuries I’d have to live in order to read the urgent books if I were 
to read twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at some speed 

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reading pace. It’s pretty depressing. So the answer to your question is, I 
don’t get anywhere near doing what I would like to do. 

DB Just in the last year or so you’ve written introductions to Paul 
Farmer’s book (The Uses of Haiti) on Haiti, Jennifer Harbury’s book 
(Bridge of Courage) on Guatemala, the Frederic Clairmont book on 
world trade. 

And Alex Carey’s book, and several books of my own, a lot of articles, 
plus all the linguistics, which is a totally different thing. On the way 
back from Australia, it’s a long flight, about seventeen or eighteen hours, 

I spent it all proofreading a very technical manuscript on a totally 
different topic. Plus I have a couple articles coming out in Mind and 
other philosophy journals. 

DB Those long flights must provide at least a sense of respite for 
you because you’re not bombarded with telephone calls and people like 
me knocking on the door. 

One thing that surprised me in Australia, and I hope it doesn’t come 
here, is that they’re very high tech in some ways that we aren’t. So 
everybody had a mobile phone. As we were driving around in cars there 
were phone calls going up and back. One thing I’ve always liked about 
driving, like flying, is that you’re inaccessible. But apparently not any 
longer. Flying is very good in that respect. You're totally anonymous. 
Nobody can bother you. 

DB One of the things I’ve observed over the years of working with 
you and watching you interact with others is a sense of balance and 
enormous patience. You’re very patient with people, particularly people 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



who ask the most inane kinds of questions. Is this something you’ve 

First of all, I'm usually fuming inside, so what you see on the outside 
isn’t necessarily what’s inside. But as far as questions, the only thing I 
ever get irritated about is elite intellectuals, the stuff they do I do find 
irritating. I shouldn’t. I should expect it. But I do find it irritating. But on 
the other hand, what you’re describing as inane questions usually strike 
me as perfectly honest questions. People have no reason to believe 
anything other than what they’re saying. If you think about where the 
questioner is coming from, what the person has been exposed to, that’s 
a very rational and intelligent question. It may sound inane from some 
other point of view, but it’s not at all inane from within the framework in 
which it’s being raised. It’s usually quite reasonable. So there’s nothing 
to be irritated about. 

You may be sorry about the conditions in which the questions arise. 
The thing to do is to try to help them get out of their intellectual 
confinement, which is not just accidental, as I mentioned. There are 
huge efforts that do go into making people, to borrow Adam Smith’s 
phrase, “as stupid and ignorant as it’s possible for a human being to 
be." A lot of the educational system is designed for that, if you think 
about it, it’s designed for obedience and passivity. From childhood, a lot 
of it is designed to prevent people from being independent and creative. 
If you’re independent-minded in school, you’re probably going to get in 
trouble very early on. That’s not the trait that’s being preferred or 
cultivated. When people live through all this stuff, plus corporate 
propaganda, plus television, plus the press and the whole mass, the 
deluge of ideological distortion that goes on, they ask questions that 
from another point of view sound inane, but from their point of view are 
completely reasonable. 

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Noam Chomsky 



DB You either have ESP or you’ve been looking at my notes, because 
i was going to ask you a question about education. You’re fond of 
quoting an anecdote of a former colleague of yours at MIT, Vicky 

Vicky Weisskopf, who just retired, is a very famous physicist. One of 
the good things about this place is that the senior faculty teach 
introductory courses. He used to teach introductory physics courses. 
He’s one of the most distinguished physicists of the twentieth century, 
not a minor figure. The story — I don’t know whether it’s true or not — is 
that students would ask him, What are we going to cover in the course? 
His answer always was that the question is not what we’re going to 
cover, but what we’re going to discover. In other words, it doesn’t matter 
what coverage there is. What matters is whether you learn to think 
independently. If so, you can find the material and the answers yourself. 
Anyone who teaches science, at least at an advanced level, is perfectly 
aware of the fact that you don’t lecture. You may be standing in front of 
a room, but it’s a cooperative enterprise. Studying is more a form of 
apprenticeship than anything else. It’s kind of like learning to be a 
skilled carpenter. You work with somebody who knows how to do it. 
Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t get it. If you get it, you’re a 
skilled carpenter. How it’s transmitted, nobody can say. Science is a lot 
like that. You just sort of have to get it. The way you get it is by 
interacting. The same is true here. You go to a class in linguistics and 
it’s a discussion. The people sitting in the seat where you’re sitting are 
usually so-called students who are talking about things, teaching me 
about what they’ve discovered. That was Weisskopf’s point. 

DB At the Mellon lecture that you gave in Chicago in October, you 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



focused primarily on the ideas of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. It 
was very different from one of your political talks, for obvious reasons. 
Not to say you’re not engaged in the political analysis as well, but there 
was really a different tone and timbre to your voice. There was a 
certain intellectual excitement when you were talking about these 
ideas that really matter to you and from what you said influenced you a 
great deal. 

They did. Not so much by reading as by living. From about eighteen 
months old, both my parents were working, and I was in what was 
called school. It happened to be an experimental school run by Temple 
University on Deweyite lines. So until I was about twelve years old I just 
experienced Deweyite ideas, rather well executed, incidentally. 
Progressive education isn’t what’s called that, but this was the real stuff. 
It was an exciting period. Later I read the thinking behind it. I didn’t 
read about it when I was eight years old. I just lived it. These were 
highly libertarian ideas. Dewey himself comes straight from the 
American mainstream. People who read what he actually said would 
now consider him some far-out anti-American lunatic or something. He 
was expressing mainstream thinking before the ideological system had 
so grotesquely distorted the tradition. By now it’s unrecognizable. For 
example, not only did he agree with the whole Enlightenment tradition 
that, as he put it, “the goal of production is to produce free people,” 
(“free men,” he said, but that’s many years ago). That’s the goal of 
production, not to produce commodities. He was a major theorist of 
democracy. There were many different, conflicting strands to democratic 
theory, but the one I’m talking about held that democracy requires 
dissolution of private power. He said as long as there is private control 
over the economic system, talk about democracy is a joke. Repeating 
basically Adam Smith, Dewey said, Politics is the shadow that big 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



business casts over society. He said attenuating the shadow doesn’t do 
much. Reforms are still going to leave it tyrannical. Basically a classical 
liberal view. His main point was that you can’t even talk about 
democracy until you have democratic control of industry, commerce, 
banking, everything. That means control by the people who work in the 
institutions, and the communities. 

These are standard libertarian socialist and anarchist ideas which go 
straight back to the Enlightenment, an outgrowth of the views of the 
kind that we were talking about before from classical liberalism. Dewey 
represented these in the modern period, as did Bertrand Russell, from 
another tradition, but again with roots in the Enlightenment. These were 
two of the major, if not the two major thinkers, of the twentieth century, 
whose ideas are about as well known as those of the real Adam Smith. 
Which is a sign of how efficient the educational system has been, and 
the propaganda system, in simply destroying even our awareness of our 
own immediate intellectual background. 

DB In that same Mellon lecture, you paraphrased Russell on 
education. You said that he promoted the idea that education is not to 
be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water, but rather 
assisting a flower to grow in its own way. That’s poetic. 

That’s an eighteenth-century idea. I don’t know if Russell knew about 
it or re-invented it, but you read that as standard in early Enlightenment 
literature. That’s the image that was used. That’s essentially what 
Weisskopf was saying, too. Humboldt, the founder of classical 
liberalism, his view was that education is a matter of laying out a string 
along which the child will develop, but in its own way. You may do 
some guiding. That’s what serious education would be, from 
kindergarten up through graduate school. You do get it in advanced 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



science, because there's no other way to do it. 

But most of the educational system is quite different. Mass education 
was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of 
production. That was its primary purpose. And don’t think people didn’t 
know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of 
resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also 
understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we’re 
educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don’t educate 
them, what we call “education," they’re going to take control — “they” 
being what Alexander Hamilton called the “great beast,” namely the 
people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called 
democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reasons. Because 
the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes 
and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow. 

On the other hand, there are exceptions, and Dewey and Russell are 
among those exceptions. But they are completely marginalized and 
unknown, although everybody sings praises to them, as they do to Adam 
Smith. What they actually said would be considered intolerable in the 
autocratic climate of dominant opinion. The totalitarian element of it is 
quite striking. The very fact that the concept “anti-American" can exist — 
forget the way it’s used — exhibits a totalitarian streak that’s pretty 
dramatic. That concept, anti-Americanism — the only real counterpart to 
it in the modern world is anti-Sovietism. In the Soviet Union, the worst 
crime was to be anti-Soviet. That’s the hallmark of a totalitarian society, 
to have concepts like anti-Sovietism or anti-Americanism. Here it’s 
considered quite natural. Books on anti-Americanism, by people who are 
basically Stalinist clones, are highly respected. That’s true of Anglo- 
American societies, which are strikingly the more democratic societies. I 
think there’s a correlation there. That’s basically Alex Carey’s point. As 
freedom grows, the need to coerce and control opinion also grows if you 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



want to prevent the great beast from doing something with its freedom. 

DB These qualities that i think you’re looking for and want to elicit 
from your students, a sense of inquiry, skepticism, challenging you, 
maybe just saying, You’re a nice guy but you don’t know what you’re 
talking about, how do you foster those? You come in with a certain 
amount of baggage into a classroom. People say, This is Noam 
Chomsky, the father of modern linguistics and all that. Do you find 
students are in awe of you or are hesitant to speak out? 

Not most. Most of them are pretty independent-minded. And they 
soon pick up the atmosphere around. Walk around and you’ll see. It’s a 
very informal atmosphere of interchange and cooperation. These are 
ideals, of course. You may not live up to them properly, but it’s certainly 
what everyone is committed to. There are students who find it harder, 
especially ones who come from Asian backgrounds. They’ve had a much 
more authoritarian tradition. Some of them break through quite quickly, 
some don’t. But by and large the people who make it into elite graduate 
programs are that tiny minority who haven’t had the creativity and 
independence beaten out of them. It doesn’t work 100%. 

There was some interesting stuff written about this by Sam Bowles 
and Herb Gintis, two economists, in their work on the American 
educational system some years back. They pointed out that the 
educational system is divided into fragments. The part that’s directed 
towards working people and the general population is indeed designed 
to impose obedience. But the education for elites can’t quite do that. It 
has to allow creativity and independence. Otherwise they won’t be able 
to do their job of making money. You find the same thing in the press. 
That’s why I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times and 
Business Week. They just have to tell the truth. That’s a contradiction in 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



the mainstream press, too. Take, say, the New York Times or the 
Washington Post. They have dual functions, and they’re contradictory. 
One function is to subdue the great beast. But another function is to let 
their audience, which is an elite audience, gain a tolerably realistic 
picture of what’s going on in the world. Otherwise they won’t be able to 
satisfy their own needs. That’s a contradiction that runs right through 
the educational system as well. It’s totally independent of another factor, 
namely just professional integriry, which a lot of people have: honesty, 
no matter what the external constraints are. That leads to various 
complexities. If you really look at the details of how the newspapers 
work, you find these contradictions and problems playing themselves out 
in complicated ways. 

DB Do you find that when you’re doing these one-on-one’s with the 
students in your office that they’re more open and communicate more 
easily with you than in class? 

My classes have a funny property. They’ve become a kind of 
institution. There’s the Thursday afternoon seminar. The participants are 
from all over the place, as we discussed earlier, including faculty from 
several fields and many places and more advanced students who may 
have taken the course officially before. Actual students are a small 
minority and sometimes tend to be somewhat intimidated. The 
discussions are mostly among faculty. What I've done over the years is 
to break the class into two, so there’s two and a half hours of free- 
floating interchange with everyone. Then everybody gets kicked out and 
only the actual students are left. These are just discussion sections, 
which the actual students run. I don’t have any agenda for them, so it’s 
whatever they feel like talking about. That’s turned out to be a useful 
way to run the courses to take care of this special problem that arose. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



DB In addition to your office being relatively neat and tidy, there are 
also some additions to the photography section on your wall. 

The latest photo has my three grandchildren sitting in a bathtub. I try 
to keep the other side of life, something to look at that’s nice. 

DB There’s a connection between my question and what I want to 
ask you about. There is much talk now of family values and children. 
You’ve been citing a UNICEF study by the economist Sylvia Ann 
Hewlett on Child Neglect in Rich Societies. What’s that about? 

That’s one of several interesting studies. That’s the best. It came out 
in 1993. It has yet to be mentioned anywhere, as far as I know. 
UNICEF usually studies poor countries, but this is a study on rich 
countries and how they take care of children. She’s a good, well-known 
American economist. She found, basically, in the last fifteen years, two 
different models. There’s an Anglo-American model and a 
European/Japanese model. They’re radically different. The Anglo- 
American model has been basically a war against children and families. 
The European/Japanese model has been supportive of families and 
children. And it shows. The statistics show it very well, as does 
experience. In Europe and Japan, family values have been maintained. 
Families have been supported. Children don’t go hungry. Parents stay 
with children. There’s bonding in early childhood because both 
husbands and wives are purposely given time to spend with children. 
There are day care centers. There’s a whole support system. The U.S. 
and England, on the other hand, are basically at war with children and 
families and have destroyed them, purposely. Purposeful, conscious 
social policy has been to attack and destroy family values and children. 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



So there are extremely high rates of child poverty and malnutrition, child 
abuse, parents and children having very little contact under the Anglo- 
American system. Contact time has fallen about forty percent over the 
past generation, in large part because two parents have to work 50-60 
hours a week to survive, to keep the children alive. So you have latchkey 
children, television supervision, abuse of children by children, violence 
against children, etc. The amazing thing about the U.S., and this is an 
intriguing element of our intellectual culture, is that the people who are 
carrying out this war are able to say that they’re defending family values 
and nobody cracks up in ridicule. That takes a really disciplined 
intellectual climate. The fact that nobody discusses it publicly — this is 
serious research, not the kind of junk that’s called research — that’s also 

DB I’m getting a signal from your office manager to wind this up. 
You’ve been citing some Hallmark cards that reflect these trends you’ve 
described. Where did you get them? 

I didn’t. That’s reported in the same study. As part of Sylvia Ann 
Hewlett’s UNICEF study, the discussion of the breakdown of families 
under the conscious social policy of the Anglo-American system, she 
mentions as one sign of it this line of Hallmark cards, one of which is 
intended to be put under a child’s breakfast cereal, saying, Have a nice 
day, because the parents are out somewhere. The other is to be tucked 
under the pillow at night, saying, Wish I were there. She gives that as 
an illustration of what’s also shown by the heavy statistics. Incidentally, 
this is not the only such study. There is a bestseller in Canada by a 
woman who is a personal friend of mine, Linda McQuaig. She used to 
be a journalist and became a freelance writer. She’s a very good social 
critic. She wrote a book (The Wealthy Banker’s Wife) on the Canadian 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



model. So it’s Canada-focused. But she pointed out, rightly, that Canada 
is kind of poised between the Anglo-American model and the European 
model, moving toward the Anglo-American one. She describes in some 
detail what that’s doing to families and children in a country that used to 
have a sort of civilized social contract. It’s eroding under the pressure of 
the Anglo-American system that they’re a part of. The book was a 
bestseller in Canada, but you’re not going to find it around here. My own 
book, Necessary Illusions, was also a bestseller in Canada. It wasn’t 
even reviewed here. There are other studies. And the facts are quite 

I notice you have a newspaper article. 

DB It's yesterday’s Denver Post. Of course, the obligatory Superbowl 
coverage dominates the front page. But there’s a story on a new study 
which reports that six million U.S. kids are poor and the numbers are 

Child poverty in the U.S. is just off the scale. Poverty altogether is. 
The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any industrial 
country, and that’s been radically increasing in recent years. Poverty 
among children is just awesome. In New York City it’s about forty 
percent below the poverty line. New York City has as high a level of 
inequality as Guatemala, which has the worst record of any country for 
which there are data. People know what that means. Poverty among 
children is enormous. Malnutrition is unbelievably high and getting 
worse. The same is true of infant mortality. It’s unique in the industrial 
world. And it’s social policy. 

Take, say, family leave. Most civilized countries nurture that. They 
want parents to be with children when they’re little. That’s when 
bonding takes place and a lot of child development takes place in those 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



early months, even neural development. It’s well known. So in a civilized 
country you try to provide for it. The U.S. does not even have the level of 
plantation workers in Uganda for these things. That’s part of the war 
against children and families and in general against poor people that’s 
carried out under the rubric of “family values.” The idea is, only rich 
people should have state support. They have to be subsidized by 
massive transfer payments, like Newt Gingrich and his constituents. But 
poor people have to be smashed. Poor means most of the population. 
Incidentally, it’s not only children who are suffering poverty, but also the 
elderly, surprisingly. There was a big article in the Wall Street Journal 
recently about how starvation, in their words, is “surging” among the 
elderly, reaching maybe 15 or 16% of the population over sixty. Again, 
that’s a phenomenon unknown in industrial societies, and indeed, 
unknown in poor societies, because there they have support systems, 
extended families or whatever. But we’re unusual. Civil society has been 
basically destroyed. Family structure has been devastated. There is a 
powerful nanny state, but it’s a welfare state for the rich. That’s an 
unusual system. And it comes from having a highly class-conscious 
business class and not much in the way of organized opposition. 

DB I’m afraid I’m going to be thrown out of here in an organized 
fashion. See you in a couple of days. 

k k k 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



February 3, 1995 

DB / want to impress upon our listeners about how competent and 
able we are. The other day we got off to a real Marx-like start, and I 
don’t mean Karl. I forgot to turn the tape recorder on. Then when I did 
the phone rang and then you spilled your entire cup of coffee on the 
floor. It was a precious sequence. 

I'll avoid that now by cutting the phone connection. 

DB Just on a pile update, I see there has been some shifting of the 
piles. The left-hand pile has grown considerably. 

There’s a Barsamian thermos mug on top of one of the piles, which 

DB And the piles on the file cabinets behind you have grown 
significantly, just in a couple of days. Let’s continue a little bit about 
Australia and what you found there. We did talk about East Timor, but 
in terms of the Australian economy, are they also part of the neoliberal 

Australia is the only country in history, I think, that has decided to 
turn itself from a rich, First World country into an impoverished Third 
World country. It is now unfortunately busily at work at it. Australia is in 
the grips of a fanatic ideology called “economic rationalism,” which is a 
souped-up version of the free market theology that’s taught in economics 
departments but that nobody in the business world believes for a 
second. It’s the ideology which has been forced on the Third World, 
which is one of the reasons why it’s such a wreck, but which rich 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



countries have never accepted for themselves. They’ve always insisted 
on and demanded massive state intervention and protectionism, with 
the U.S. usually leading the pack, since 1800. You can see the 
differences. You go back to the eighteenth century and the First World 
and the Third World weren’t all that different. They’re rather different 
today, and this is one of the reasons. 

Australia, which is in the Anglo-American orbit, and not a leading 
power, obviously, is a small country. They have taken the ideology 
seriously. They are doing what they call “liberalizing” their economy, 
meaning opening it up to foreign penetration and control, and to the 
main sources of capital in that area. East and Southeast Asia is a big 
growth area in the world. In fact, with one exception it’s an enormous 
growth area. The one basket case is the Philippines, which has been 
enjoying our tutelage for a century. You’re not supposed to notice that. 
But apart from that the area’s in a big growth boom, in pretty awful 
ways, but nevertheless a growth boom. The source of it is mainly 
Japanese and overseas Chinese capital, which are two big imperial 
concentrations, although the overseas Chinese one is scattered. It’s not 
territorially based. What they’re trying to do is pretty clear. They want to 
turn Australia into their Caribbean. So they’ll own the beach fronts and 
have the nice hotels and the Australians can serve the meals and there 
will be a lot of resources that they can pull out. Australia is still a rich 
country. In fact, at the time of the First World War it was the richest 
country in the world, so it has lots of advantages. It’s not going to look 
like Jamaica very soon, but it’s heading in that direction. 

Since they dropped tariffs in this neoliberal fanaticism, the 
manufacturing deficit, meaning the ratio of manufacturing imports to 
exports has increased very sharply, meaning importing manufactures 
and exporting resources, services, tourism basically. It’s moving in that 
direction. It’s under very careful design, with a lot of smugness. Because 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



the economists who studied at the University of Chicago and so on 
probably believe the stuff they were taught. Business leaders have never 
been willing to tolerate it for a second. But it is part of the ideological 
fanaticism that is part of the technique for smashing down poor people 
and sometimes rich people who take it on for themselves and suffer the 
consequences. The same thing happened in New Zealand. 

DB What was Australia’s role in the U.S. attack on Indochina? 

Australian documents have been released up till the early 1960s and 
we now know that the Menzies government, the government of Australia 
in the early 1960s, was greatly afraid of Indonesia. That was their big 
concern. That concern still hasn’t abated. They are on the edge of Asia. 
They regard themselves as a white outpost on the edge of Asia. There’s 
always a yellow peril concern, very racist. It’s being overcome now, I 
should say, but back then it was very racist. They felt that they had to 
switch. The British fleet used to be what protected them. But illusions 
about that collapsed during the Second World War, when the Japanese 
very quickly sank the British fleet. They realized that their protection 
was going to be the U.S., so they better be a subservient client to the 
U.S. As the U.S. moved into Indochina, they went along. They provided 
not a huge amount of aid — it’s a small country — but they sent troops, so 
they carried out plenty of torture, atrocities, and so on. 

They did this for two reasons. Part of it was just service to the big 
power, the big guys, who are supposed to protect them. But partly 
because they shared the U.S. geopolitical analysis, which was very 
straightforward, that there could be a demonstration effect of successful 
independent development in Indochina. They were worried about the 
same thing from China in those days. And that it could spread. It could, 
as they liked to put it, “infect the region.” There could be an infection 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



that could spread over the whole region. The way you get rid of an 
infection is you destroy the virus and you immunize those whom it might 
reach. And they did. They helped the U.S. destroy the virus. 

The U.S. had basically won the Vietnam War by the early 1970s, as 
was clear to the business community. Nobody else seems to be able to 
understand it yet. In the region they simply supported the installation of 
extremely brutal, murderous regimes. 

The most important was Indonesia, where there was a major event in 
1965. The CIA pointed out in its report, which has since come out, that 
the slaughter that took place ranks right up with the Nazis and Stalin. 
They were very proud of it, of course, and said it was one of the most 
important events of the century. And it was. Indonesia was the rich area 
that they were afraid might be infected by the spread of independent 
nationalism. When the generals took over in the mid 1960s, General 
Suharto, in what the Times called admiringly a “staggering mass 
slaughter," destroyed the one political party in the country, the PKI, the 
party of the poor. Everyone agrees on this. The U.S. records, 
incidentally, have also come out through the 1950s at least, although 
they’ve been very secretive about them. They’ve been very selective 
about what they release. It’s a little unusual. It’s also been noticed by 
scholars. But there’s enough there to know that what they were afraid of 
was that the PKI, the major political party, would win an election if 
there was ever an election. So therefore democracy had to be destroyed. 

In the late 1950s, the U.S. carried out huge subversive operations 
designed to strip away the resource rich outer islands in a military 
uprising. That didn’t work. The only alternative left was this “boiling 
bloodbath,” as it was called in the press, which very much satisfied the 
U.S. There was total euphoria across the board. The same thing 
happened pretty much in Thailand and the Philippines and so on. So the 
region was inoculated. The virus was destroyed. Australia played a part 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



in it Since then they have been incorporated into what’s called in the 
U.S. the “defense system," the military system. So that’s their 
relationship to the U.S. But they have a separate relationship to Asia. 
That’s the relationship of increasing subordination to Japanese and 
overseas Chinese capital that’s quite visible. For example, of the three 
largest exporters, two are Japanese multinationals, which is the 
standard Third World pattern developing. 

DB Darwin, in his Voyage of The Beagle in 1839, wrote, “ wherever 
the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal." How did 
the aborigines, the indigenous population of Australia fare? Did you 
have any contact with them while you were there? 

Some. In Tasmania they were simply totally exterminated. In 
Australia they were driven inland, which means desert. In the U.S., it’s 
taken several hundred years. It’s just two hundred years for Australia, 
they’re a young country compared with us — they’re beginning to 
recognize aboriginal rights, the land rights issue, etc. There is an 
independent aboriginal movement. Up till now there’s been extreme 
racism, maybe worse than the American record. But it’s changing, and 
now there are aboriginal rights groups. I was able to meet some of them. 

I was invited by the Timorese, and they’re in contact with them. So 
there has been some legal recognition of aboriginal land rights and some 
limited rights to resources, but it will happen to the extent that the 
popular forces press it, as usual. 

DB There’s been a noticeable shift in the emphasis of your public 
talks and your writing over the last decade. There’s much more focus 
now on trade and economic issues. When did that occur? How did that 
come about? 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



It came about from the 1970s, when the issues shifted. Some major 
events took place in the early 1970s, very significant. One of them was 
the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, which we’ve talked about. 
That’s one force that set in motion very substantial changes that gave a 
big acceleration to the growth of multinationals. Transnational 
corporations now have an enormous role in the world economy. These 
are just incredible private tyrannies. They make totalitarian states look 
mild by comparison. 

The other huge change was the extraordinary growth in financial 
capital. First of all, it’s exploded in scale. It’s absolutely astronomical. 
There are close to a trillion dollars moving every day just in trading. Also 
the total composition of capital in international exchange has radically 
shifted. So in 1970, before the destruction of the Bretton Woods 
system, which meant regulated exchanges, about ninety percent of the 
capital in international exchanges was real economy related, related to 
investment and trade. Ten percent was speculative. By 1990 the figures 
were reversed. By 1994, the last report I saw was 95% speculative and 
it’s probably gone up since. That has an extraordinary effect. 

Its effects were noticed by James Tobin, the American Nobel Prize- 
winning economist, in his presidential address to the American 
Economic Association in 1978, so that’s in the early stages. He pointed 
out that this rise of financial capital speculating against currencies is 
going to drive the world towards very low-growth, low-wage, and, 
though he didn’t mention it, also high-profit economy. What financial 
capital wants is basically stable money. It doesn’t want growth. This is 
why you see headlines in the papers saying, Federal Reserve Fears 
Growth, Fears Employment, we’ve got to cut down the growth rate and 
the employment rate. You have to make sure that Goldman, Sachs gets 
enough money on their bondholdings. He suggested at the time a tax on 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



speculative capital, just to slow down the rate of capital exchanges. Of 
course that was never done. It’s coming up in the U.N. It will be 
smashed, but it’s still being discussed, simply to try to shift the balance 
towards productive investment instead of speculative and destructive 

Incidentally, it’s had an enormous effect on the news business. The 
big wire services, like Reuters and AP, which is connected with Dow 
Jones, and Knight-Ridder, do give news, but that’s a secondary function. 
The main thing that they do is interact instantaneously with financial 
markets. So if Clinton is giving a speech, the AP, Reuters, and Knight- 
Ridder reporters will be there, of course. If he says a phrase indicating 
maybe we’re going to stimulate the economy, they race off with their 
mobile phones in their hands and call the central computer and say, 
Clinton said X. Then the guy who is manning the computer twenty-four 
hours a day types off to thousands of terminals around the world that 
Clinton said X, and maybe $700 million moves around in financial 
markets. The three wire services compete to make sure they get there 
first. I was told by a reporter who works for Reuters that every day they 
get a record of how they rank as compared with AP and Knight-Ridder, 
and it’s in the microseconds. You’ve got to get there half a second before 
because there are huge amounts of money at stake. All this is 
destructive for the economy. It tends towards low growth, low wages, 
high profits. That’s essentially what the wire services are about these 
days. Yes, there’s news on the side, but that’s slow stuff for us guys. 

The telecommunications revolution, which expedited all of this, is, 
incidentally, another state component of the international economy that 
didn’t develop through private capital, but through the public paying to 
destroy themselves, which is what it amounts to. This has been going on 
since the early 1970s, but it really hit big in the 1980s, primarily in the 
Anglo-American societies. So under the Reaganites and Thatcher, and 

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with a spillover effect in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (it’s all 
one culture area). You get this development we talked about last time of 
the effects on families and children. That’s just one effect. 

DB Where does the collapse of the Mexican economy factor into 

I just got a phone call a couple of days ago from a journalist in 
Mexico telling me that I’m a big figure there now because they had an 
interview with me in one of the Mexican journals (La Jornada, November 
7, 1994) a couple of months ago in which I said this is all built on sand 
and is going to collapse. It was pretty obvious. It’s what’s called a Ponzi 
scheme. You borrow money. You use what you’ve borrowed to borrow 
more money, and finally the whole thing collapses because there’s 
nothing behind it. Economists who know anything about Mexico didn’t 
miss it. It’s the ideological fanatics who didn’t notice it, or claim not to. 

The free market reform, so-called, “privatization," which everyone 
says is such a wonderful thing, means giving away public assets for a 
fraction of their worth to rich cronies of the president. Every president of 
Mexico, including Salinas, whom we’re supposed to love, comes out a 
billionaire, for some reason, as do all of his friends and associates. The 
number of billionaires in the Forbes list of billionaires went up from one 
to twenty-four from 1989 to 1993 during the huge economic miracle. 

Meanwhile the number of people below the poverty level increased at 
roughly the same rate. Wages have fallen about fifty percent. Part of the 
point of NAFTA was to undermine the Mexican economy by opening 
them up to much cheaper imports from the U.S. The U.S. has an 
advanced state-subsidized economy, so therefore you can produce 
things very cheaply. The idea was to wipe out middle-level Mexican 
business, keep the multinationals. There are Mexican-based 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



multinationals. Keep the monopolies. Keep the billionaires. Lower 
wages. That’s good for U.S. corporations. Then they can move over and 
get workers at a fraction of the wage. It’s a very repressive state. You 
don’t have to worry about unions and regulations. There has been a lot 
of capital flowing into Mexico, but it’s well known that it was mostly 

As far as the rich Mexicans are concerned, they just export their 
capital. They’re not going to keep it there. So probably rich Mexicans 
lost very little from this devaluation. For one thing, they all knew it was 
coming because it’s so totally corrupt that it was all known on the 
inside. If anyone looks, they’ll find that Mexican capital probably went 
overseas very fast shortly before the devaluation. 

So it’s the American investors who are in trouble, big Wall Street 
firms. One Mexico specialist, Christopher Whalen, very conservative, 
who advises business, called the current Clinton plan a scheme to bail 
out Treasury Secretary Rubin and his friends. The Europeans know this. 
Just this morning the main European countries announced that they 
were going to back off from this. They don’t see any particular point in 
bailing out rich Wall Street firms. But it’s another one of those 
techniques by which you get the American taxpayer to pay off rich 

This is essentially what happened to the debt crisis back in the early 
1980s. Mexico had a huge debt. The debt was to U.S. banks, but they 
don’t want to pay the cost. So it was basically socialized. When the debt 
is moved over to international funding institutions, as it’s been, that 
means to the taxpayer. They don’t get their money from nowhere. They 
get it from taxes. It’s exactly what existing capitalism is about. Profit is 
privatized but costs are socialized. If Mexico wants to develop, it’s going 
to have to do it the way every other country did, by not closing itself 
from international markets, but by focusing on domestic development, 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



meaning building up its own resources, protecting them, maintaining 
them. It’s got plenty. Not giving them away to outsiders. And they’re 
going in exactly the opposite direction. 

Part of this bailout is that Mexico is essentially mortgaging its one 
major resource, the oil reserves. The U.S. has been trying to get hold of 
those for forty years, and now we’ve got them. PEMEX, the big Mexican 
oil company, is probably completely broke. It looks good on statistics, 
but if any serious accountant took a look at it, they’d probably find that 
it doesn’t have any capital. Because relative to other big oil companies it 
has been doing very little capital investment. That has a very simple 
meaning: you’re not getting ready to produce for the future. But they do 
have the oil, and U.S. energy corporations would be delighted to take it 
over. Mexico is going down the tubes. That’s what’s called an economic 
miracle. It’s not the only one. It’s true of the hemisphere. 

DB It was really interesting to watch how this played out in the 
mainstream press. You’ve often talked about the needs of foreign 
countries to satisfy Wall Street investors. Rarely have I seen it so 
blatant as in this case. Mexico’s finance minister goes to New York , 
makes a case and the Times wrote, New York Investors Not Pleased 
With Him. He goes back to Mexico and gets fired. Then the new guy 
goes to New York, as did other finance ministers from Argentina and 
elsewhere, and the line was, New York Investors Take a Liking to Him. 

This one was so blatant you couldn’t conceal it. It was all over the 
front pages. In fact, it was kind of interesting in Congress. The current 
Congress is not really a straight big business institution the way the 
Democratic Party usually is. It's got a mixture of very reactionary 
nationalist fanaticism. A large part of it is based on phony business, like 
yuppie-style business and some of it on the middle level, more 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



nationalistic business. And they don’t like it. They’re not in favor of 
bailing out the big Wall Street firms. So you’ve had opposition from 
Congress and from people like Pat Buchanan and so on. 

What’s happened here is very interesting. If people weren’t suffering, 
if you were looking at it from Mars, it would be interesting to watch. Big 
business for years has been trying to undermine and roll back the whole 
social contract, the welfare system, and so on. But there are elections. 
You can’t approach the population and say, Look, vote for me, I want to 
kill you. That doesn’t work. So what they’ve had to do is to try to 
organize people, as have other demagogues, on other issues, what they 
like to call “cultural issues." So what they’ve organized is Christian 
fundamentalists and jingoist fanatics and a whole range of extremists, 
plus plenty of people who live off the government but pretend that 
they’re entrepreneurial, like the high tech culture, all publicly subsidized, 
but they pretend all sorts of entrepreneurial values. They’re all big 
libertarians as long as the government’s paying them off enough. 
Gingrich is the perfect example. So that collection of people is the only 
one they can mobilize. It's not hard in the U.S. It’s a depoliticized 
society. There’s no civil society. It’s been destroyed. There is very deep 
fundamentalist fanaticism, widespread fear, a very frightened society, 
people hiding in terror. The jingoism is extraordinary. There’s no other 
country that I know of outside the Soviet Union where you could have a 
concept like “anti-Americanism.” Almost any country would laugh if you 
talked about that. But in the Soviet Union or the U.S. it’s considered a 
totally normal thing. This is all a result of lots of corporate propaganda 
and other such things. 

But the result is that they’ve now got a tiger by the tail. It’s a little bit 
the way probably Hitler’s backers in the industrial-financial world felt by 
the late 1930s. The only way they were able to organize people was in 
terms of fear and hatred and jingoism and subordination to power. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



Pretty soon they had these maniacs running around taking political 
control of the state. The state is a powerful institution. We’re getting 
something like that in the U.S. There is an anti-big business mood 
among the troops that big business has mobilized. The reason is they 
couldn’t mobilize them on any other grounds. You couldn’t mobilize 
them on the real project, namely kill yourselves. That won’t work. So 
they had to do it around other projects, and there aren’t a lot around. So 
you get something like — I don’t want to draw the analogy too tightly, 
because things are different — it has something of the feel of Hitler 
Germany and Khomeini Iran, in which similar sorts of things took place. 
The business sectors in Iran, the merchants, the bazaaris, the guys who 
wanted to get rid of the Shah, they did organize Islamic fundamentalists. 
And they weren't happy with the results. Something similar is happening 

DB Is that the major internal problem that you see for the rollback 

I don’t know how big a problem it is. The point is that the 
concentration of private capital is by now so extraordinary and so 
transnational in scale that there isn’t much that can be done in political 
systems to affect it. The London Economist had a great phrase that 
captures it. They were describing the elections in Poland, where the 
Poles, not understanding how wonderful their economy is, voted back 
the old communists into power. About half the population of Poland said 
they were way better off when they were under communism. We know 
it’s an economic miracle. They don’t understand it. The Economist 
assured its readers that it didn’t really matter, because, as they put it, 
“policy is insulated from politics." So in other words, these guys can play 
their games, but there’s enough private tyranny to ensure what the 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



World Bank calls “technocratic insulation." You keep doing the same 
things no matter what these guys say at the ballot box. 

Probably that’s true. If you look at the programs that are being 
pushed through now in the U.S., they’re very carefully crafted to protect 
the rich. The New York budget that came out yesterday was a very good 
example. It’s worth taking a close look at. They say they’re lowering 
taxes, but it’s a total lie. For example, if you lower state support of mass 
transportation, that has one immediate consequence, namely costs of 
riding public transportation go up. And that’s a tax, a very carefully 
crafted tax, not on guys who ride around in limousines but on working 
people. So in fact they will cut income taxes. In that sense, taxes are 
being cut. But the tax system is getting less progressive. They’ll cut 
taxes. But meanwhile they’ll increase taxes for the poor, the people who 
have to ride the subway. Elderly people who are at home and can’t get 
out and need shopping services, that’s going to be cut, which means the 
costs are transferred to the poor. They’re not yet going after Medicare, 
because rich people get Medicare. But they went after Medicaid, which 
goes to poor people. Cut mental health services. The rich will get them 
anyway. If you look at the budget carefully, it’s a very carefully honed 
class warfare designed to crush the poor even more. I don’t mean 
welfare mothers. I mean working people. I’m talking about eighty 
percent of the population. Smash the poor more. Enrich the rich. 
Inequality at the level of Guatemala isn’t good enough. They want to 
make it more extreme. That’s the so-called populism, the fight for the 
middle classes. Those are the policies that are getting rammed through. 

DB A couple of months ago Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, If 
you’re going to talk about welfare, let’s talk about “corporate welfare.” 
How far did that idea go? 

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Noam Chomsky 



He gave a talk which was well reported in the foreign financial press. 
The London Financial Times had a big report on it. It was mentioned 
around here. It was shot down instantly by the White House. They told 
him right away to shut up. The Wall Street Journal had a nice article 
about it a couple of weeks later, a good article, in which they reported 
about the enormous subsidies being given to corporations under the new 
Gingrich program, which they said was going to make boardrooms 
delighted. In the course of the article they said, Well, Robert Reich did 
make this speech about ending corporate welfare as we know it, but he 
was instantly shot out of the water by the White House. It was made 
very clear that no such plans were on the agenda. Quite the opposite. 
We’re working for you guys, don’t worry about it. But it’s a term that’s in 
the public eye at the moment, although as yet very little mentioned in 
the U.S., and instantly silenced by the Clinton White House. 

DB Robert Siegel is the co-host of National Public Radio’s All 
Things Considered, in an exchange he had with Jerry Markatos, a 
colleague of mine, in North Carolina, Siegel says that “attacking 
welfare for the rich is a staple of mainstream Democratic rhetoric. 
Chomsky’s observation about this is not exactly cutting edge stuff. ” 

Of course, I've been talking about it for years, as have others out of 
the mainstream. He may believe what he said. He probably doesn’t 
know anything about the facts. These guys are just supposed to read the 
words that somebody puts in front of their face. The fact is that 
“attacking welfare for the rich" was shot down instantly. It’s not a 
Democratic staple. In fact, the Democrats made it extremely clear and 
explicit that they weren’t going to let this go anywhere. Reich was called 
on the carpet for it. Siegel may simply not be aware of the facts, which 
is very likely. And incidentally, the point that Markatos raised had 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



nothing to do with what is sometimes called “corporate welfare," but 
rather something different and far more important: the Pentagon-based 
system of public subsidy for high technology industry. Apparently Siegel 
missed the point completely, again, not too surprising since these topics 
are not likely to be discussed in his circles. 

DB But Siegel doesn’t leave it at that. Markatos asked him, Why 
don’t you have Chomsky on NPR once in a while? He said he wasn’t 
particularly interested in hearing from you and that you “evidently 
enjoy a small, avid, and largely academic audience who seem to be 
persuaded that the tangible world of politics is all the result of 
delusion, false consciousness, and media manipulation. ” 

He knows as much about that as he does about the staples of 
Democratic political discourse. Actually, I did have a discussion with 
him once, which was kind of interesting. A book of mine called 
Necessary Illusions, which was on the media mainly, was based on 
invited lectures given over Canadian national public radio. It was then 
published and was in fact a bestseller in Toronto. I never saw a review 
here, as far as I recall. But there was a fair amount of public pressure on 
NPR. On All Things Considered they have an authors interview segment. 
So under various kinds of pressure they finally agreed to let me have one 
of those five-minute interviews. It was with Siegel. 

I didn’t listen. But it was announced at 5:00 that it was going to be 
on the next half-hour segment. People listened. It got to 5:25 and it 
hadn’t been on. Then there were five minutes of music. At that point 
people started calling the stations, saying, What happened? They didn’t 
know what happened, so they started calling Washington. The producer 
of the program said it had played. She said it was on her list and it 
played. People asked her to check. It turned out it hadn’t played. She 

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called me. I didn’t pay any attention one way or the other. She was kind 
of apologetic. Somewhere between 5:05, when it was announced, and 
5:25, when it was supposed to go on, it had been canceled by 
somebody high up. She said that the reason was that they thought 
Robert Siegel’s questions weren’t pointed enough. If true, the fact that 
anyone even checked at that point shows how terrified the NPR liberals 
are that some doctrinally unacceptable thought be expressed. She asked 
me would I do it again. So I said sure. It's a pain in the neck going down 
to the station. But I went down again. He tried to ask pointed questions. 
You can draw your own conclusions. That they did run. That’s our one 

As to the audience, there’s some truth to it. It’s true that there are 
some countries, the U.S. is one, the others are mostly Eastern Europe 
and other totalitarian systems, where I have had almost no access to the 
major media over the years. That’s not true elsewhere. First of all, there 
are plenty of audiences in the U.S. I don’t have any problem talking with 
the people I'd like to talk to. In fact, I can’t do a fraction of it. They’re 
students, popular groups, churches, etc. But the thread of truth beneath 
what he says is that in the U.S., as in Russia, the major media may 
have been very sure to exclude not just me, but anybody with a 
dissident voice. 

You showed me the Markatos-Siegel exchange (Current, January 16, 
1995) right after I came back from Australia. There I gave a talk at the 
National Press Club, which was nationally televised (twice), at the 
Parliament Building, I was not talking about the U.S. They wanted me 
to talk about Australia’s foreign policy. So I talked about Australian 
foreign policy to journalists, parliamentarians, officials, and a national 
audience. I was not very polite, but very critical, because I think the 
foreign policy is disgraceful. I was on their world services program 
beamed to Asia. I was interviewed on that for about half an hour on the 

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Noam Chomsky 



Timor Gap Treaty, a very important matter. All over the press and the 
papers. The same is true elsewhere. I have articles and interviews in 
major journals up and down the hemisphere, and many invitations from 
leading journals that I unfortunately have no time to accept; I’d like to. I 
just had an article in Israel’s most important daily journal, an invited 
critique of their foreign policy. They don’t want me to talk about the U.S. 
They wanted a critique of the so-called peace process. The same is true 
in Europe. So as far as Robert Siegel is concerned, there are two 
possibilities. Either he understands something about me that, outside 
the Soviet Union, no one else knows. That’s one possibility. There’s 
another possibility, that he resembles the commissars in a different way. 
People can make their own decision. 

DB Let's turn to one of our favorite topics, which is of course sports. 
There is a major tabor action going on that a lot of people know about, 
and that’s the baseball strike. Have you been following that? 

No, I’m afraid not. 

DB There’s an interesting component to this which i think you 
should know about. The owners are demanding that their workers, the 
players, put a cap on their earnings. But no similar cap is being asked 
to be put on the owners’ ability to make profits. 

That sounds like the norm. I’ll bet you without looking at it that most 
of the population is blaming the players. I suspect, it’s just the way 
media and corporate propaganda usually works. 

DB That just played out here in Massachusetts. Governor Weld 
wants to give money to the owner of the New England Patriots to 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



spruce up the stadium and build luxury boxes and improve road 
infrastructure and the like. There was a poll In yesterday’s Boston 
Globe that most of the people want it. They think it’s a good idea. 
That’s not welfare. 

No, because it goes to rich people. This is part, again, it’s a matter of 
people paying for their own subordination. Maybe it’s fun to watch 
baseball games. In fact, I like it, too. But the fact of the matter is that 
the way this stuff functions in the society is to marginalize the people. 
It’s kind of like gladiatorial contests in Rome. The idea is to try to get the 
great beast to pay attention to something else and not what we powerful 
and privileged people are doing to them. That’s what all the hoopla is 
basically about, I would guess. 

DB Decatur, Illinois, is the site of three major labor actions. The 
corporations involved are Staley, a British-owned company; 
Bridgestone, which is the number one tire and rubber maker in the 
world and is Japanese-owned; and Caterpillar, the number one 
producer in the world of earth-moving equipment. At Staley there’s a 
lockout. At Bridgestone and Caterpillar the workers are on strike. The 
New York Times is calling this a “ testing field in labor relations” and 
also saying that “in Decatur more than anyplace else labor is trying to 
halt its slide toward irrelevance. 

There is a whole long story here. The U.S. has an extremely violent 
labor history, unusual in the industrial world. Workers here didn’t get the 
rights they had in Europe until the mid-1930s. They had had those 
rights half a century before in Europe, even in reactionary countries. In 
fact, the right-wing British press, let’s say, the London Times, couldn’t 
believe the way U.S. workers were treated. Then finally the U.S. workers 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



did get some rights. It caused total hysteria in the business community. 
They thought they had the whole country by the throat, and they learned 
that they didn’t. 

They immediately started a counterattack. It was on hold during the 
war but took off right afterwards, with huge campaigns. There was a 
nice phrase that one of the corporate leaders used. He said there is “an 
everlasting battle for the minds of men” and we have to win it. They put 
billions of dollars into this. In the early 1950s, when all this stuff took 
off, business-made movies were reaching twenty million people a week. 
It was a huge campaign. They had what they called “economic 
education programs" to teach people what we want the truth to be. 
They forced workers in plants to go to them. It was called “released 
time." They had to go to these courses. There were millions of 
pamphlets distributed. About one-third of the material in schools was 
produced by the business communities. Churches and universities were 
also targeted for subversion. Even sport leagues were taken over. The 
huge entertainment industry was enlisted in the cause. For business, it 
was a deadly serious matter. The anti-communist crusade was tied up 
with this. That’s its true meaning. It was a way of using fear and jingoist 
sentiments to try to undermine labor rights and functioning democracy. 

The labor bureaucrats played their own role in this. Business was 
worried at the time. By the end of the Second World War the U.S. 
population had joined the general social democratic currents sweeping 
the world. Almost half the work force thought that they’d do better if the 
government owned factories than if private enterprise did. The unions in 
the late 1940s were calling for worker rights to look at the books and 
intervene in management decisions and to control plants; in other 
words, to try to democratize the system, which is a horrifying idea to 
pure totalitarians like business leaders. So there was a real struggle 
going on. It worked through the 1950s, largely driven by anti- 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



communism. During the 1980s the unions were really crushed. 

There was a series of Caterpillar strikes. The first one was critical, 
because it was the first time the government endorsed the hiring of what 
they called “permanent replacement workers," in other words, scabs in 
manufacturing industry. The U.S. was condemned by the International 
Labor Organization for that, which was extremely unusual. The ILO is a 
very conservative organization and they don’t offend their big funders. 
But they did call on the U.S. to adhere to international labor standards. 
Maybe Robert Siegel reported it on NPR. That was a major event. This 
is the next stage. 

They now feel, because of these developments in the international 
economy, business tastes blood, they think they can roll back the whole 
social contract that’s been developed over the past century through 
popular struggle: labor rights, human rights, the rights of children to 
have food, anything other than making profit tomorrow. 

It’s important to remember that we don’t have a capitalist economy, 
because such a thing couldn’t survive, but it’s quasi-capitalist, so there 
are market forces and competition. In such a system you’re driven to 
very short-term goals. Part of the nature of that kind of system is you 
can’t plan very far. You want to make profit tomorrow. If you don’t show 
a good bottom line tomorrow, you’re out and somebody else is in. The 
result is they destroy themselves. That’s one of the reasons why 
business called for government regulation a century ago, when they were 
playing around with laissez-faire. They quickly saw that it was going to 
destroy everything. So much of the regulatory apparatus was put in 
under business control. 

But now they’re more fanatic and they want to destroy the regulatory 
apparatus. It’s clear what that’s going to mean. The timing was almost 
delicious. Last December, when the Republicans were announcing their 
moves to try to eliminate and demolish the regulatory apparatus by a 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



variety of methods, which is what they’re planning to do, right at that 
time there was a series of reports that came out about some of the 
effects of having done this in the 1980s. One of the most striking was 
right here in New England: Georges Bank, which has been the richest 
fishing area in the world. They had to close a lot of it down. Now New 
England is importing cod from Norway, which is like Australia importing 
kangaroos from Turkey. The reason they’re doing it is that Norway 
preserved its fishing grounds. They have a different “philosophy," as 
they put it here. Our philosophy is to rob everything as much as possible 
and forget about tomorrow. Their philosophy is to consider the needs of 
the population, now and in the future. What happened is that the 
government combined subsidies to the fishing industry with 
deregulation. You know what that’s going to mean. You pay off people to 
deplete fish resources and you don’t regulate what they do and they 
deplete them. In fact, they’ve depleted ground fish. Whether they will 
recover or not nobody really knows. Scientists don’t know enough about 
it. But maybe they’ve destroyed the richest fishing area in the world 
forever, or maybe somehow it will be able to recover. 

This came out at the same time that they were announcing further 
cutbacks in regulation. Then along comes the Mexican collapse. It’s 
another example. Deregulate everything, enrich the rich, which is what 
privatization is, and you can see what’s going to happen. And if 
something goes wrong, turn to the public for a bail-out, because 
“capitalism” requires privatizing profit but socializing cost and risk. 
Incidentally, in the same weeks, NASA came out with new satellite data 
announcing the best evidence yet, for a rise in sea level, which means 
the effect of global warming. They also announced in the same satellite 
data, that they traced the effect of the depletion of the ozone layer to 
industrial chemicals. That comes out at the same time that they’re 
saying, Let’s cut back the last residue of regulatory apparatus. But it 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



makes a certain sense if the sole human value is making as much 
wealth as you can tomorrow. You don’t care what happens down the 
road and you don’t care what happens to anybody else. It makes perfect 
sense. If it destroys the world, well, it’s not my problem. 

DB We hear these horns and things in the background. Is this office 
over a railroad track? 

It’s actually a change from the way it once was. When I got here in 
the 1950s it was an industrial area. The industrial plants have been 
wiped out. The working-class living areas have been leveled. But at that 
time we were between a leather factory, a tire-burning factory, a 
chocolate factory, and a soap factory. Depending on which way the wind 
was blowing, you had a nice combination of odors. Now it’s mostly 
government-supported high tech small industries. 

There are very few trains around. The reason is that the U.S. 
government carried out probably the biggest social engineering project in 
history in the 1950s, pouring huge amounts of money into destroying 
the public transportation system in favor of cars and airplanes, because 
that’s what benefits big industry. It started with a corporate conspiracy 
to buy up and eliminate street railways and so on. The whole project 
suburbanized the country and changed it enormously. That’s why you 
got shopping malls out in the suburbs and wreckage in the inner cities. 
It was a huge state social engineering project. 

It’s continuing. For example, a couple of years ago, Congress passed 
the Transportation Subsidy Act to give the states money to support 
transportation. It was intended to maintain public transportation and 
also to fill potholes in the roads. But the figures just came out, in the 
same month of December, and it showed something like ninety-six 
percent of it went to private transportation and virtually nothing to public 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



transportation. That’s the point of getting things down to the state level. 
Big corporations can play around with governments these days, but state 
governments they can control far more easily. They can play one state 
against another much more easily than one country against another. 
That’s the purpose of what they call “devolution," let’s get things down 
to the people, the states. Corporations can really kick them in the face, 
and nobody has a chance. So the idea will be that you get block grants 
that go to the states, no federal control, meaning no democratic control. 
It will go precisely to the powerful interests. We know who they are: the 
construction business, the automobile corporations, and so on. Meaning 
whatever there is of public transportation is very likely to decline. 

Yesterday’s New York budget is a striking example. It doesn’t say it, 
but it implies increasing the fares for public transportation and 
decreasing service, while making sure that the guys in the limousines 
are doing quite fine. 

So you hear a couple of freight trains in the background, but unless 
they can be shown to serve private power, they’re not going to be 
around long. Incidentally, one of my favorite remarks in diplomatic 
history is in a great book on Brazil by a leading diplomatic historian, also 
senior historian of the CIA, who describes with enormous pride how we 
took over Brazil in 1945 (Gerald Haines, The Americanization of 
Brazil). We were going to make it “a testing area” for “scientific 
methods" of development in accordance with capitalism. We gave them 
all the advice. He’s very proud of this total wreckage, but who cares? 
Brazil had been a European colony, so their railroad system was based 
on the European model, which works. Part of the advice was to switch it 
over to the American model. If anybody has ever taken a train in pre- 
Thatcher England or France and then in the U.S. they know what that 
means. But he said this with a straight face. Another part of their advice 
was to destroy the Amazon. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 



DB When you were in Chicago in October, a woman in the audience 
asked you, in a pretty straight-ahead question, how come you don’t 
factor gender into your analysis? You pretty much agreed with her, but 
you really didn’t answer her question. 

In fact, I’ve been writing about it quite a bit in recent books in 
connection with structural adjustment, globalization of production, and 
imposition of industrialized export-oriented agriculture. In all cases, 
women are the worst victims. Also in some of these latest articles. What 
we discussed the other day about the effect on families is essentially 
gender war. The very fact that women’s work is not considered work is 
an ideological attack. As I pointed out, it’s somewhere between lunacy 
and idiocy. The whole welfare “debate," as it’s called, is based on the 
assumption that raising children isn’t work. It’s not like speculating on 
stock markets. That’s real work. So if a woman is taking care of a kid, 
she’s not doing anything. Domestic work altogether is not considered 
work because women do it. That gives an extraordinary distortion to the 
nature of the economy. It amounts to transfer payments from working 
women, from women altogether and working women in particular, to 
others. They don’t get social security for raising a child. You do get 
social security for other things. The same with every other benefit. I 
maybe haven’t written as much about such matters as I should have, 
probably not. But it’s a major phenomenon, very dramatic now. 

Take these latest New York welfare plans again, or the ones they’re 
thinking about in Congress. One of the things they’re going to do is to 
force women under twenty-one, if they want to get welfare, to live with 
their families. Take a look at those women. A substantial percentage of 
them have children as a result of either rape or abuse within the family. 
These advocates of family values say either you send your kid to a state 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



orphanage or you live with a family which may be an abusive family and 
may be the source of your problems. But you can’t set off on your own 
and raise children, because that’s not work. That’s not a life. You have 
to get into the labor market. 

All of this is a major phenomenon in contemporary American affairs 
and in fact in the history of capitalism. Part of the reason why capitalism 
looks successful is it’s always had a lot of slave labor, half the 
population. What women are doing isn’t counted. 

DB I’ve never heard you, for example, use the term “patriarchy.” 
While not wanting to hold you to the fire with particular terms, is it a 
concept that you’re comfortable with? 

I don’t know if I use the term, but I certainly use the concept. If I’m 
asked about what I mean by anarchism, I always point out that what it 
means is an effort to undermine any form of illegitimate authority, 
whether it’s in the home or between men and women or parents and 
children or corporations and workers or the state and its people. It’s all 
forms of authority that have to justify themselves and almost never can. 
But it’s true. I haven’t emphasized it. 

DB Are there any books by feminists that you read and value? 

I sort of read it. What I read I sort of know, so I'm not learning 
anything. Maybe other people are. It’s worth doing. I think it’s had a 
very positive effect on the general culture. But unless you call things like 
Hewlett’s UNICEF study of child care feminist literature — which I 
wouldn’t, I'd just call it straight analysis — no, I don’t know it very well. 

DB Russia has been a great success story. The military attacked the 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



Parliament and it managed to win that battle, but what about the 
awesome display of Russian military might in the Chechen republic? 

My view has long been that the Cold War was in large part an aspect 
of the North-South conflict, unique in scale but similar in its basic logic. 
With its end, it is therefore not surprising to find that Russia is largely 
returning to the Third World where it belonged and where it had been 
for half a millennium. Right after 1989 not only Russia but most of 
Eastern Europe goes into free fall, returns to Third World conditions. The 
old Communist Party is doing fine. They’re happier than they ever were. 
They’re richer than they ever were. Inequality has grown enormously. 
The leadership is mostly the old nomenklatura, the guys the West 
always liked and want to do business with now. 

UNICEF just did a study just on the human effects of the so-called 
reforms, which they approve of, incidentally. They estimated that in 
Russia alone there were about half a million extra deaths a year by 
1993 as a result of the reforms that we’re so proud of. That’s a fair 
degree of killing, even by twentieth-century standards. The same 
leadership is in control. Take Yeltsin, for example, whom the West 
favors. He’s a tough old party boss and knows how to kick people in the 
face. There’s the rise of a huge mafia, like every other Third World 
country we take over, starting from southern Italy in 1943, but in fact all 
through the world, there’s a major mafia. 

Incidentally, Mexico, too. In Mexico under the economic miracle the 
government is increasingly linked up with cocaine cartels. Jeffrey Sachs 
made his fame, this guy who goes around telling countries how to save 
themselves, by the economic miracle in Bolivia. But what’s usually only 
pointed out in the footnotes is that Bolivia stabilized its currency all 
right, but mostly by shifting to cocaine exports, which is perfectly 
rational under the advice that he gave them of becoming an agro 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



exporter. It’s happening in the former U.S.S.R., too. Huge mafia, 
spreading to the U.S. because there are plenty of immigrants here. 
Selling off resources. In Kazakhstan there are a lot of resources and 
there are American businessmen all over the place trying to buy up the 
oil. If a country that’s that well-behaved wants to carry out massacres, 
the U.S. isn’t going to object. The U.S. hasn’t tried to prevent the 
Chechnya massacres, any more than it did Saddam Hussein’s gassing of 

DB Here I am with this barrage of questions partly written out. I’m 
dealing with a loaded deck and you’re just sitting there. It’s like 
Russian roulette, in a way. You don’t know what’s coming next. Are 
there ever any moments where you’re thinking, He’s really missing the 
point. Why doesn’t he ask that? 

Your questions are so perfect, how could I think that? 

DB You’re impossible! Any sense of maybe cutting down on your 
public speaking schedule? 

Actually, I have to cut down a bit this spring because I have some 
extra teaching. I've doubled the teaching that I usually have. But not in 
general. I have to think about what I’m going to do for the next couple of 
years anyway. Retirement age isn’t that far away. But I’ve had too much 
to do to think about the future. 

DB In all these talks that you’ve given, you must have reached 
hundreds of thousands of people, your articles, the interviews, the 
radio, the TV. It must put a tremendous, not just a physical burden on 
you, but an emotional one, too. Everything is riding on your shoulders. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 



I'm concerned about that, just as a friend. 

I don’t feel that way at all. I feel I’m riding on other people’s 
shoulders. When I go to give a talk in Chicago, say, I just show up. They 
did all the work. All I did is take a plane, give a couple talks, and go 
home. The people there did all the work. I just came back from 
Australia. Those guys have been working for months to set everything 
up, and they’re still working. I went, had a nice time, talked at a bunch 
of places. I’m exploiting other people. Actually, it’s mutual exploitation. 
I'm not trying to be modest about it. There are some things that I can do 
pretty well. Over the years I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things. 

DB Like what? 

I did spend a lot of time, believe it or not, organizing and going to 
meetings, like in the early days of Resist, of which I was one of the 
founders. I religiously went to all the meetings and sat there and was 
useless and bored. Finally, out of all this a kind of division of labor 
emerged by mutual consent. We would all do the things we can do. 
There are some things I just can’t do at all and other things I can do very 
easily. I do the things I can do easily. But the serious work is always 
done by organizers. There’s no question about that. They’re down there 
every day, doing the hard work, preparing the ground, bringing out the 
effects. There is absolutely no effect in giving a talk. It’s like water under 
a bridge, unless people do something with it. If it is a technique, a 
device for getting people to think and bringing them together and getting 
them to do something, fine, then it was worth it. Otherwise it was a 
waste of time, self-indulgence. 

DB Speaking of resistance, what forces can resist the right-wing 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 




An overwhelming majority of the population is very strongly opposed 
to everything that’s going on. The question is, can they be successfully 
diverted and dissolved and separated from one another? We talk about 
having to teach lessons in democracy to Haiti. Anyone with a grey cell in 
their head would laugh and collapse in ridicule at that. We have to learn 
lessons in democracy from Haiti. Here’s a country in miserable 
conditions, worse than anything we can imagine, with a population that 
was able on their own effort to construct a lively, vibrant, functioning 
civil society with unions and grassroots organizations and, without any 
resources, to sweep their own president into power and create an actual 
democratic society. Of course, it was smashed by force, with us behind 
it. Nobody’s going to smash us by force. But if we could learn the 
lessons of democracy from Haitian peasants, we could overcome these 

DB Why don’t we end here and maybe you can make some headway 
on these piles. 

OK. (Chuckles) 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 

May 9 and 12, 1995 

DB Here you are — / want you to be the first kid on your block to 
have the new Nixon stamp. Speaks volumes for American political 

The nicest comment I’ve ever gotten in the New York Times was from 
William Safire about Nixon, remember that? 

DB No. 

I had written an article in the New York Review about Watergate. I 
said I thought it was sort of a tea party and didn’t mean a thing and 
compared it with COINTELPRO, which came out at the same time. I 
said, Look, if you want to talk about something really serious, talk about 
that. But Watergate was just marginal. So William Safire picked it up 
and had a column about it, saying, Finally somebody told the truth 
about it. Then I started getting letters from little old ladies in Ohio 
saying, Thank you for defending our President. It was unusual praise 
from the New York Times. 

DB / want to talk to you about history and memory and, if you’ll 
excuse the expression, how they’re constructed. The Czech writer Milan 
Kundera has written, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle 
of memory against forgetting.” In the context of all of these 

History and Memory 


anniversaries that have been coming upon us in waves, from D-day to 
l f-E Day, there’s one in particular that I’d like you to talk about. August 
6th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. I guess 
you were sixteen at the time. Where were you when you heard the 

I was actually a counsellor at a summer camp up in the Poconos 
when the news came through by radio, I guess. We probably didn’t have 
any newspapers. I was pretty shocked by it. I took off by myself for a 
couple of hours and walked in the woods and just thought about it. I 
came back and never talked to anyone because nobody seemed to care. 
So it was just a sort of personal reaction. 

But I must say that Nagasaki strikes me as much worse. Nobody’s 
done much research into Nagasaki, so I can only speculate, but my 
impression is that the Nagasaki bomb was basically an experiment. 
Somebody ought to check this out, I'm not certain, but I think that they 
basically wanted to discover whether a different mechanism was going 
to work and used a city because, I don’t know why, why not a city? If 
that turns out to be true, even five percent true, it’s the most grotesque 
event in history, probably. Certainly the most grotesque scientific 
experiment in history. 

Whatever you think about Hiroshima, maybe you can give an 
argument, maybe you can’t (I don’t really think you can) but at least it’s 
not in outer space. I can't conceive of any argument for Nagasaki. And 
then it doesn’t stop there, of course. There was that event which I wrote 
about thirty years ago which I never see mentioned, although it’s in the 
official Air Force history. It’s what the official Air Force history calls the 
“finale.” General Hap Arnold, who was Air Force commander, decided 
that to end the war it would be nice to do it with a bang, with a kind of 
grand finale. What he wanted to do was to see if he could organize a 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


thousand planes for a raid on Japan. Getting a thousand planes together 
was a big managerial achievement in those days, sort of Schwarzkopf- 
style. But he managed to get a thousand planes, and they bombed 
cities, civilian targets, on August 14. This is described in a very upbeat 
description in the Air Force history. It was after the surrender had been 
announced but before it had been officially received. Then when you 
move over to the Japanese side, there was Makoto Oda, a well-known 
Japanese novelist who was maybe fourteen or fifteen at the time, living 
in Osaka. He wrote an article which describes his experiences. He 
remembers the August 14th raid and he claims that with the bombs 
they were dropping leaflets saying, Japan has surrendered. That one 
didn’t kill as many people as the atom bombs, but in a way it’s more 

In fact, speaking of memories, March 10th was a memory. It was the 
fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Tokyo. That passed here without a 
whisper. If you look at the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after the war, 
it points out that more people were killed during that bombing in a six- 
hour period than ever in human history. The bombing of Tokyo virtually 
leveled the city. It was mostly wood, so therefore they started by 
dropping oil gel, which sets things on fire, then napalm, which was then 
just coming in. According to survivors, the planes were just chasing 
people. There was no defense. It was a defenseless city. They used 
napalm to block the river so people couldn’t get to it. People did try to 
jump into ponds, but then they just burned to death because the ponds 
were boiling. I don’t know what the total was. It’s estimated somewhere 
between 80,000 and 200,000, which puts it very much on the scale of 
the atom bombs, maybe bigger. They so totally destroyed Tokyo that it 
was taken off the atom bomb target list because it would have had no 
effect other than piling rubble on rubble and bodies on bodies, so it 
wouldn’t have shown anything. It’s just astonishing. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


The Far Eastern Economic Review, which is a right-wing journal run 
by Dow Jones, publisher also of the Wall Street Journal, 
commemorated it with a detailed article and a picture of what Tokyo 
looked like after the firebombing. It’s unbelievable. There are two or 
three buildings standing. The rest is just flat. 

DB Do you recall what it was about Hiroshima that caused you so 
much consternation? Were you aware of the implications? 

The implications were pretty obvious. Even the little bit of information 
that came across was that one plane had flown across to an undefended 
city and dropped one bomb, which they then described and the number 
of people they had killed. But it was obviously monstrous. That does 
open a new era, no question. It means the destruction of the world is 
well within reach, quite apart from the nature of this attack. I had had 
various amounts of skepticism about the war right from the beginning. 
The war against Germany was one thing. But this part was quite 
different, in my opinion. Growing up in that period, you just couldn’t 
miss what John Dower wrote about recently. The treatment of the 
Germans and the Japanese was radically different. If you go back and 
look at war films — these are childhood memories, I can’t be certain — but 
my memories are the Germans, who were by far worse in everything 
they did, incomparably worse, were treated with some respect. They 
were blond Aryan types, whereas the Japanese were vermin to be 
crushed. Plus all the story of the sneak attack and the day that would 
live in infamy and so on, you can’t take that seriously, and I didn’t at the 
time. Bombing Pearl Harbor and Manila is doubtless a crime, but by the 
standards of the twentieth century, even by then, it’s just invisible. They 
bombed military bases in colonies that had been stolen from their 
inhabitants, in the Philippines by killing a couple hundred thousand 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


people, and in the case of Hawaii by guile and deceit and treachery. To 
bomb military bases in colonies that had been stolen from the 
inhabitants no doubt is a crime, but pretty low down on the scale. 

Incidentally, there are plenty of Japanese atrocities. Japan had 
carried out horrifying atrocities, but that didn’t cause all that much of a 
reaction. Nobody cared much. 

In fact, right up to the end, there were negotiations going on between 
Japan and the U.S., Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, and Admiral 
Nomura, right up till Pearl Harbor, I think until a week before the 
bombing. The main issue of contention was that the U.S. insisted that 
the Asian system be an open one, meaning everybody had a right to 
participate freely. So the U.S. had to maintain its rights in China. Japan 
at the end finally agreed to that, but they insisted that this be worldwide 
so that the Western Hemisphere would be open. Cordell Hull, who was 
a terrible racist, considered this outrageous, as did other American 

This picks up a theme that goes way back through the 1930s. The 
Japanese from the beginning, from the time they began to expand, this 
particular phase of expansion, had said that they were trying to create in 
Asia something comparable to the Monroe Doctrine. That touched a 
nerve in the U.S., because there was more than a little truth to that. And 
there were all kinds of efforts through the 1930s to distinguish the 
Monroe Doctrine from the Japanese new order in Asia. They’re worth 
reading. I reviewed them in an article (“The Revolutionary Pacifism of 
A.J. Muste: On the Backgrounds of the Pacific War") about thirty years 
ago. They are amazing to read, up till the end. They end up by saying, 
How can they dare make this comparison? When we exert our power in 
the Caribbean and the Philippines it’s for the benefit of people. It’s to 
improve them and uplift them and help them, whereas when the 
Japanese do it, it’s aggression and atrocities. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


If you look closely, one of the things I wrote about — I was just 
rereading that article, wondering whether to reprint it, there’s a lot of 
new scholarship, but as far as I know it changes nothing — was to review 
recently released Rand Corporation studies of Japanese counter- 
insurgency documents in Manchuria. They had carried out a campaign 
in Manchuria and they described it in some detail and the Rand 
Corporation released it They’re quite fascinating reading. It was very 
close to what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam at the same time. They 
professed no interest in any gain for Japan. The Kwantung Army, which 
was running it, had a kind of social democratic rhetoric, in a sense. They 
wanted to create an earthly paradise for the people of Asia, wanted to 
save the people of Manchuria, what they called Manchukuo, like we 
called our client state South Vietnam. They wanted to save the people of 
Manchukuo from Chinese bandits and fascists and communists (the 
Russians were right there) and give them a chance to develop 
independently in cooperation with Japan. The same in China, where 
they established a puppet regime, but under the control of a well-known 
Chinese nationalist, certainly with all the credentials of the people we 
were supporting in South Vietnam. And full of love for the people and 
high ideals and anti-communism. I just compared it point by point with 
what Dean Rusk and other people were saying about Vietnam at the 
time. Aside from a stylistic difference, it wasn’t very different. It 
translated very closely. 

It’s kind of interesting. This article of mine has occasionally been 
mentioned in the U.S., and it’s regarded as an exculpation of Japan. It’s 
regarded as justifying the Japanese, comparing them to what we were 
doing in Vietnam, which tells you something about the American 
psyche. If you compare something to the horrifying atrocities that the 
U.S. was conducting in Vietnam, then that shows that you’re an 
apologist for them. How can anybody criticize us? What we’re doing 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


must be magnificent. 

Which raises another slight memory. We also just passed the 
twentieth anniversary of the departure of U.S. troops from Vietnam. It 
was interesting to see how that passed. Unfortunately, it’s just a broken 
record, so I don’t even have to repeat it. But the complete incapacity of 
anyone in the spectrum here, across the spectrum, of seeing that there 
was anything more involved than a failed endeavor, that’s pretty 
amazing. It happened to coincide with McNamara’s memoirs. That’s a 
story, too. 

DB / want to talk to you about McNamara in just a second. But was 
that article in American Power and the New Mandarins? 

It was reprinted there. It was originally in Liberation, the anarchist 
journal. A.J. Muste had just died, and Nat Hentoff was putting together 
a volume of essays for him. A.J. Muste was a revolutionary pacifist. The 
framework of the article was, Let’s test his thesis in the hardest case, 
when the country is attacked. Technically the country wasn’t attacked, 
but let’s say the U.S. was attacked. In that case, does it make sense to 
be a pacifist? He was. He thought we should not fight that war. Then I 
said, How can we evaluate that position? I went on in some detail into 
the background of these things. 

The background is quite interesting. August 6th will be coming along, 
and there is going to be endless discussion about the war in Asia. We’ll 
just look and see what is said. For example, what is going to be said 
about the comparison to the Monroe Doctrine? What’s going to be said 
about the fact that the U.S. was pretty supportive of Japan right through 
the 1930s? As late as 1939, Ambassador Grew, who was the leading 
specialist on Japan, was defending the Japanese conquest in China. In 
fact, the big debate then was, Are they going to cut off our access to 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


China? What is going to be said about the 1932 Ottawa Conference, 
where Britain, at that point unable to compete with much more efficient, 
not cheaper labor, but more efficient Japanese production, simply 
abandoned the laissez-faire doctrine, free trade, which they had 
instituted when they figured they were going to win the game because 
they were richer than anyone else? They couldn’t compete any longer, so 
they abandoned it and closed off the Empire. For a country like Japan, 
without resources, dependent on trade, for the British to close off the 
Empire, meaning at that time India, Australia, New Zealand, Borneo, 
Malaya — it was not technically closed off but they raised tariffs so high 
that Japan couldn’t get in. The Dutch did the same in the East Indies, 
what’s now Indonesia. The U.S. did the same. We were a much smaller 
power then, but in the Philippines and Cuba, that was closed off, in 
effect. And here is Japan saying, We’re latecomers in the game, 
admittedly, but we want to play the game the same way you guys do. If 
you block trade, we’ll just have to use force, the same way you did in 
the first place. They specifically compared it with the Monroe Doctrine. 
You can have any view you like about this, but to discuss the Second 
World War without discussing these things doesn’t even reach the level 
of idiocy. So we’ll know in a couple of months how much of this was 
discussed. I think we can make a pretty fair guess. 

DB It’s amazing to see how fifty years later Hiroshima is still such a 
contentious issue. Recently there was a huge ado about the 
Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum exhibit on the atomic bombing. 
Subsequently the director resigned under fire from Congressmen and 
veterans’ groups and other monitors of history. What is it that makes 
this such a passionate issue? 

I was involved in that. As you know, I’m a neurotic letter writer. I’m 

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History and Memory 


one of those people who signed that statement of historians saying, This 
ought to be opened up to discussion. It can’t just be closed. It said, 
Maybe the exhibit has to be criticized, but let’s have a serious exhibit 
and look at the history. The Smithsonian backed off from that under 
pressure from the American Legion and some veterans’ groups and so on 
and political pressure, including by the Washington Post, which went 
berserk over this issue. How dare you raise this question? Any question 
that might indicate that we’re not perfect and they’re not devils? My 
favorite article is by Charles Krauthammer. I hate to quote from memory, 
but my recollection is that he said something about how what we should 
have is the Enola Gay and it should be an object of reverence. In other 
words, we should pray to this idol and revere it because it succeeded in 
massacring people, and since that’s our job, we should not only accept 
it but revere it, like a god. That’s the extreme. 

After I signed that statement, there were about fifteen hundred people 
who signed it, I started getting letters from outraged people. I wouldn't 
be surprised if I was the only person who ever answered the letters. But 
I did answer them, because I’m always intrigued. And besides, I feel you 
ought to answer letters. So I answered them and got into some 
interesting correspondence, which varied. At one point a piece of one of 
my letters was published in some Air Force journal, with a violent 
diatribe about these anti-American fanatics. The letters ranged. There 
were people with whom I had a perfectly serious correspondence, for 
example, veterans who said, I was out there at the time and I just 
wanted to get home alive and I didn’t care what they did. Okay, that’s 
understandable. I don’t agree, but we’re sort of in the same moral 

But others were insane. There were people who sent me articles 
written saying, History should be nothing more than a record of data. 
You should show the Enola Gay, you should show August 6, period. 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


Anything that goes beyond data is political correctness taking over. Of 
course, they don’t believe that of anything else, but on this one they do. 
And basically the theme was, We’ve got to worship the Enola Gay. There 
is a history here, too. For years — I don’t know if it’s still true — at air 
shows, the regular Texas air shows, every year the pilot of the Enola Gay 
would fly a replica of it and thousands of people would cheer. There 
aren’t many countries that celebrate atrocities like that. 

It was rather intriguing to compare. The anniversary of the fire- 
bombing of Tokyo was on March 10th. That was about three weeks 
after the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, which was mid- 
February some time. The bombing of Dresden was pretty bad. Nobody 
knows, but I think numbers like maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people killed 
are used. They destroyed a civilian city. They originally thought it was a 
military target, but they apparently knew in advance that it wasn’t. That 
was the British and the American Air Forces, under British command. 
The British press had quite a lot of soul-searching about this. I haven’t 
seen anything here. Britain was under attack at that time. That’s when 
V-2 rockets were coming. Britain had, first of all, suffered, was 
threatened, and was still under attack. They didn’t know until the last 
minute how that war was going to end. If the Germans had been a little 
bit more advanced with jet planes and V-2 rockets it could have gone 
their way. The U.S. was never attacked. I think a couple of balloons flew 
over Oregon or something, but the British are able to reconsider whether 
the destruction of Dresden was legitimate, and we can’t. Because we are 
perfect. We are holy. We revere our murderers because they are gods, 
and the more people they kill the more godly they are. That’s our 
history. One example is Theodore Roosevelt’s Winning the West , which 
ought to be read by every student in every college. It’s just proto-Nazi. 

DB Getting back to Hiroshima again, there are just a couple more 

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History and Memory 


things I want to touch on with you about that. You’ve heard the 
traditional rationalizations for it. I’m sure they’re going to be repeated 
ad nauseam in August. The bombing was a military necessity. Had the 
U.S. invaded there would have been one million casualties. 

I don’t think any serious historian even takes that seriously at all any 
more. One can argue about whether it was worth doing or not. It’s not 
an open-and-shut case. On the other hand, there is pretty strong 
evidence now that they never considered anything like that level of 
casualties. That’s a number that Truman threw around once in his diary, 
but the actual numbers estimated (Barton Bernstein at Stanford has 
probably done the most detailed work on this from the documentary 
record) are, I think, about 50,000 or 60,000. Aside from that, there’s 
no reason to believe there ever would have been an invasion. The 
invasion was planned for November, and another one for the next May 
or some months afterwards. But there was pretty good reason to think 
that Japan would have surrendered by then. In fact, again, the Strategic 
Bombing Survey said that Japan couldn’t have held out that long, atom 
bombing or not. 

Quite apart from that, there’s a question about the legitimacy of an 
invasion. Why did we have to occupy Japan? Maybe it was right, maybe 
it was wrong, but it’s not obvious. For example, the fact that Japan had 
attacked two military bases in two U.S. colonies hardly gives us a 
justification for occupying it. Of course, Japan had carried out plenty of 
atrocities. But we didn’t care about the worst ones in the 1930s. We 
paid very little attention. There was some criticism, some embargoes, 
this and that. But they were mostly not because of the atrocities. During 
the war Japan carried out tons of atrocities. The Bataan Death March, 
the treatment of prisoners, and so on. But that’s in the context of the 
war, and we weren’t too pretty either if you look at what was happening. 

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So there is a question about the invasion of Japan. You can give an 
argument for that, too, even from the Japanese side. There were plenty 
of Japanese who, I think, wanted that invasion. It’s a complicated story. 

One thing that the invasion did was it restored the imperial system. 
MacArthur and the Americans purposely covered up Emperor Hirohito’s 
crucial role in the war and the atrocities because they wanted to keep 
the imperial system as a way of controlling Japan. And they did cover it 
up. It’s a pretty horrible story. 

But nevertheless, the invasion did undermine to some extent the 
legitimacy of the imperial system. Therefore it created an opening for 
Japanese democrats that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. So that’s a 
factor. You can debate that. I should say that the net effect of the 
invasion is a complicated story. Overall, it probably undermined 
Japanese fascism and left some kind of opening for Japanese 
democracy. On the other hand, it was a very mixed bag. 

By 1947, the U.S. had undertaken what it called the “reverse 
course," which meant in effect restoring the old fascist structures, the 
zaibatsu, the conglomerates. They smashed up the labor unions, pretty 
much what the U.S. did around the world. It started in Japan around 
1947. George Kennan was once again instrumental in that reversal, a 
nice record all across the board. But it’s a mixed story. If you want to 
look at the invasion, there are many facets, including the question, Why 
invade? But if it was agreed that we should have invaded, there is strong 
reason to believe that the invasion would have been just an occupation 
of a country that had surrendered, atom bomb or not. 

Aside from that, there’s the question of the Russians. The Russians 
came in, I think, around August 8. That was a terrible blow to the 
Japanese. They could not withstand a Russian land invasion, and they 
knew it. It’s very likely that a large part of the motive in the atom 
bombing was to cut off the possibility of Russian participation in control 

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over East Asia. The U.S. took a very strong line on that. We not only 
kept the Russians out, we kept the British and the French and the Dutch 
and everyone out. The Far Eastern Commission, which was supposed to 
oversee Japanese affairs, the U.S. ruled with an iron hand. They 
wouldn’t let anyone in. Kind of like the Monroe Doctrine. In the Middle 
East at least the U.S. let the British in. But in Japan, nothing. There are 
good studies of this. So this is going to be our show. And certainly not 
the Russians. You can debate exactly the extent to which the atom 
bomb was motivated by those considerations, but it was certainly not 

DB / was talking to Michio Kaku some weeks ago. He told me a 
really interesting story. His parents were interned , as were tens of 
thousands of Japanese-Americans. He said that the motive behind the 
internment had to do with the rich agricultural lands that the Japanese 
farmers had, particularly in California, and that these were confiscated 
by the government and then handed over to agribusiness. Have you 
heard that? 

I’ve heard that. I’ve never researched it, so I can’t say, but I’ve 
certainly heard it. I think that was the outcome. How much it was the 
motive I don’t know. 

DB / come from the Upper East Side of New York. There were a lot 
of Germans there. The Bund was marching-around in the 1930s, in 
fact, right up until the war, but one didn’t hear any calls for internment 
of German-Americans. 

I was in Philadelphia in a German and Irish Catholic neighborhood. 
We were the only Jewish family there. The neighborhood was very anti- 

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Semitic and pro-Nazi. I remember beer parties when Paris fell, and it 
lasted up until December 7, 1941. In fact some of my dramatic 
childhood memories are watching the guys who were cheering for the 
Nazis one day come around with little tin hats and telling everybody to 
pull down their shades the next day, a very sudden transition. But there 
was no internment of Germans. It’s not that they were treated nicely. 
The German POWs were sent to re-education camps, as were the 
Italians, which was completely illegal. The U.S. had to keep it secret 
because they were afraid the Germans would retaliate with the U.S. 
prisoners. So they were renamed. At first they were called re-education 
camps. Then they were called some other fake name. The idea was to 
brainwash them, what’s called “teaching them democracy." They were 
kept in the U.S. until about mid-1946. They were used for forced labor. 
Some were killed. They were kept in England several years later. Did you 
know Peggy Duff? She was the main person in the international peace 
movement for years. Her first activity was exposing the British re- 
education camps for German and Italian prisoners. We actually know a 
lot about the German side of it, because the Germans keep very good 
records. The Italians, nobody knows a thing. They were probably treated 
much worse, because they didn’t keep any records. But you’re 
absolutely right, there were no German-Americans interned. 

DB Michio told me another thing in terms of duration. Some 
Japanese-Americans, including his parents , were kept in the 
internment camps almost a year after the war ended. There was 
compensation much later, after many of the people had died. Again 
with this issue, the question of memory: Politicians and pundits today 
often cite World War il and that era as not only just the good war, but 
there were no moral ambiguities. Right was right. Wrong was wrong. 
Americans were united. There was great cooperation. People were 

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making sacrifices. Is that how you remember it? 

There is a lot of truth to that. During the war there was tremendous 
unity. People were making, not sacrifices of the kind that the Russians 
made, but you weren’t driving as much as you used to, and you 
wouldn’t buy a new refrigerator, those kinds of sacrifices. And of course 
American soldiers fought. 

But there were plenty of moral ambiguities. The moral ambiguities 
went before and started during the war again. So the U.S. and Britain 
were very pro-Mussolini. Even after the invasion of Ethiopia the U.S. 
accelerated its sale of oil to Italy in violation of the embargo. Italy was 
loved. Mussolini was that “admirable Italian gentleman," as Roosevelt 
called him. After the March on Rome in 1922 and the establishment of 
Italian fascism and the smashing of the Parliament, the destruction of 
the trade unions, the torture chambers, and so on, American investment 
boomed. Mussolini was very much admired across the board, including 
by the left, I should say. In the 1930s U.S. investment shifted mostly to 
Germany. Germany became after Britain the leading recipient of U.S. 
investment. There were very close relations between German and 
American firms. American firms were participating in the Aryanization 
program, the robbery of Jewish properties. The U.S. government, the 
State Department, for example, was taking quite a favorable attitude 
toward the Nazis at least until 1937. The line was that Hitler was a 
moderate and we have to support him because he’s standing between 
the extremes of left and right and unless we support him there will be a 
rise of the masses. The British were even more favorable to Hitler. Lord 
Halifax went to Germany in 1937 or 1938 and told Hitler how much 
the British admired him. This continued almost until the war. Then, as 
soon as the war got started, the first thing the U.S. and Britain did as 
they started liberating the Continent was restoring the fascist structures, 

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very openly. 

DB Christopher Hitchens had a brilliant essay, in a recent Monthly 
Review, on Munich. It’s always talked of as “appeasement.” He said it 
wasn’t appeasement. It was collaboration. 

I wrote him a letter after that mentioning to him some additional 
documentation. It was as you say an excellent essay, but the truth is 
even worse than he says. The documents are very explicit. They say, We 
must support Hitler. It’s the same kind of thing they say about every 
Third World gangster they support these days. It's the only barrier 
against the masses, who will otherwise rise up and take away everything 
from the people of property. So of course we have to support Hitler. This 
goes right through to 1937 and 1938. The same was going on in Spain. 
Basically the U.S. and Britain were kind of supporting Franco. They 
didn’t openly support him, but the policies that they adopted were pretty 
much pro-Franco. For example, there was an embargo, but Franco was 
getting everything except oil. That’s the one problem he had. He 
managed to get oil. How? From Texaco Oil Co., which happened to be 
run by an open Nazi. The Texaco Oil Co. had contracts with the 
Republic. It broke them. The ships that were out at sea were rediverted 
to Franco. This continued right through the war. The State Department 
always claimed it couldn’t find it, didn’t know anything about it. I even 
read it at the time. The little left-wing press could find it. They were 
reporting it. But the State Department couldn’t find it. Later of course 
they conceded that it was happening. Meanwhile, some American 
businessman tried to send pistols from Mexico to the Republic. 
Roosevelt gave a press conference in which he bitterly denounced him. 
He said, Of course it’s not technically illegal, but some people just have 
no patriotism at all. On the other hand, Texaco selling oil to Franco was 

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just fine. We just had a repeat of that in Haiti, which the press is still 
sitting on. Texaco also sent oil to the Cedras junta with the agreement of 
the Bush and Clinton administrations. 

DB Let's keep on this theme of history and memory. Robert 
McNamara is perhaps the epitome of “the best and the brightest”. He 
has the number one bestseller in the country today: In Retrospect. He 
writes, “We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who 
participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we 
thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our 
decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. 
We owe it to future generations to explain why. I truly believe that we 
made an error not of values and intentions, but of judgment and 
capabilities. ” 

Actually, he’s correct about the values. If somebody tries to disobey 
us, our values are that they have to be crushed and massacred. Those 
are our values. They go back hundreds of years, and those are exactly 
the values that they acted upon. His belief that it was a mistake — 
personally I agree with the hawks on this. He’s been criticized by the 
doves who say, You came around too late, and by the hawks who say, 
Well, it was a victory. And the hawks are right. It was a victory. So it 
wasn’t a mistake. He doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t understand 
very much, incidentally. The one interesting aspect of the book is how 
little he understood about what was going on or understands today. He 
doesn’t even understand what he was involved in. 

I assume he’s telling the truth. The book has a kind of ring of honesty 
about it. What it reads like is an extremely narrow technocrat, a small- 
time engineer who was given a particular job to do and just tried to do 
that job efficiently, didn’t understand anything that was going on, 

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including what he himself was doing. 

But you’re right. There’s only one criticism that he sees, or that any 
of his critics see, or even his supporters, the whole range of discussion, 
including people who were very active in the peace movement, I should 
say. I’ve been shocked by this, the people who are active in the peace 
movement who are saying, We’re vindicated because he finally 
recognized that we were right. It was an unwinnable war. 

What about the maybe, if you count them up, four million 
Indochinese that died, something on that order. What about them? 
Actually, he has a sentence or two about them, and even that sentence 
is interesting. He talks about the North Vietnamese who were killed. An 
interesting fact about the book — and you can’t blame him for this, 
because he’s just adopting the conventions of the culture that he comes 
from, he’s completely uncritical and couldn’t think of questioning it— 
throughout the book the “South Vietnamese” are the collaborators whom 
we installed and supported. He recognizes that the population was 
mostly on the other side, but they’re not “South Vietnamese." The attack 
on them doesn’t appear. 

The most interesting part of the book, in my opinion, the first thing I 
looked at when I read it, is what he would say about the two major 
decisions that he was involved in. He was involved in two basic 
decisions. He implemented orders, of course. One was in November and 
December 1961, when the internal resistance was overthrowing the 
U.S. client regime after it had already killed probably 80,000 people, 
eliciting internal resistance which Washington’s terror state couldn’t 
withstand. Kennedy just turned from straight terror, which it had been 
before, to outright aggression. They unleashed the American air force 
against Vietnamese villagers, authorized napalm, started crop 
destruction. They also started attacks against the North, which was not 
involved seriously at the time. That was the first big decision. He doesn’t 

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even mention it I don’t think he’s concealing anything. I don’t think he 
thought of it as a decision. Because after all, we’re just slaughtering 
South Vietnamese, and that doesn’t harm us at all. So why shouldn’t we 
do it? Nobody’s going to get angry. Nobody’s going to harm us if we kill 
South Vietnamese. So when we send U.S. planes to napalm Vietnamese 
villages, what could be the problem? So that’s not even mentioned. 

The second one is even more interesting. In January 1965 they made 
the decision to escalate radically the bombing of South Vietnam. They 
also started bombing North Vietnam at the time, February 1965. But 
the bombing of South Vietnam was tripled in scale, and much more 
devastating. That was known. In fact, one person who describes that 
right at the time — and this is a very interesting aspect of McNamara’s 
book and of the commentary on it — was Bernard Fall, a French military 
historian and Indochina specialist. A big hawk, incidentally. It’s “we" 
and “them.” He was on “our side" and that sort of thing. But he 
happened to have a missing gene or something. He cared about the 
people of Vietnam, although he was a hawk and a military historian who 
supported the French and then the Americans. He didn’t want to see the 
place destroyed. In 1965, he wrote that the biggest decision of the war 
was not the bombing of North Vietnam, not the sending of American 
troops a couple of months later, but the decision to bomb South 
Vietnam at a far greater scale than anything else and to smash the place 
to bits. He had also pointed out in the preceding couple of years that the 
U.S. had been destroying the so-called Viet Cong with napalm and 
vomiting gases and massive bombardment and it was a massacre. He 
said in 1965 they escalated it to a much higher attack, and that was a 
big change. He was an American advisor. He describes how he flew 
with the American planes when they napalmed villages, destroyed 
hospitals. He described it very graphically. He was infuriated about it, 
but he describes it. 

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McNamara refers to those articles. He says, Fall’s reports were 
“encouraging” and justified the U.S. escalation. McNamara didn’t 
mention the decision to vastly increase the bombing of South Vietnam. 
That’s just passed over. Nor is there discussion of the bombing of South 
Vietnam in general. He just passes over it without comment. He cites 
Fall’s articles and says, Part of the reason that we were encouraged to 
proceed was that Fall was a fine analyst and knowledgeable person and 
was very impressed with what we were doing and thought it was going 
to work. There’s a certain truth to that. Fall was saying, Yes, these guys 
are such murderous maniacs that they may succeed in destroying the 
country. In that sense, he thought it was going to work. 

Then McNamara has a footnote in his book. He says two years later, 
Fall had changed his mind about the efficacy of American actions and 
took a more pessimistic view about the prospects for American victory. 
That was 1967. Look at what he wrote in 1967. He said this just before 
he died. He said Vietnam is literally dying under the worst attack that 
any country has ever suffered and it was very likely that Vietnam as a 
cultural and historical entity was going to become extinct under the 
American attack. And McNamara reads this and says he changed his 
mind about the efficacy of what we were doing. Not only did he write 
that, but every reviewer read it. Nobody comments on it. Nobody sees 
anything funny about it. Because if we want to destroy a country and 
extinguish it as a cultural and historical entity, who could object? Fall 
was talking about South Vietnam, notice, not North Vietnam. The killing 
was mostly in South Vietnam. The attack was mostly against South 

In fact, there’s an interesting aspect of the Pentagon Papers , too. The 
Pentagon Papers were not very revealing, contrary to what people say. I 
had advance access to them, since I had been helping Dan Ellsberg in 
releasing them, so I wrote about them in a lot of detail and very fast 

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because I had already read them. But one of the very few interesting 
things about the Pentagon Papers which I wrote about at the time was 
the disparity between the planning for the bombing of the North and the 
planning for the bombing of the South. On the bombing of the North, 
there was meticulous, detailed planning. How far should we go? At what 
rate? What targets? The bombing of the South, at three times the rate 
and with far more vicious consequences, was unplanned. There’s no 
discussion about it. Why? Very simple. The bombing of the North might 
cause us problems. When we started bombing the North, we were 
bombing, for example, Chinese railroads, which happened to go right 
through North Vietnam. We were going to hit Russian ships, as they did. 
And there could be a reaction somewhere in the world which might 
harm us. So therefore that you have to plan for. But massacring people 
in South Vietnam, nothing. B-52 bombing of the Mekong Delta, one of 
the most densely populated areas in the world, destroying hospitals and 
dams, nobody’s going to bother us about that. So that doesn’t require 
any planning or evaluation. 

Not only is it interesting that this happened, but also interesting is 
the fact that no one noticed it. I wrote about it, but I have yet to find any 
commentator, scholar, or anyone else, who noticed this fact about the 
Pentagon Papers. And you see that in the contemporary discussion. We 
were “defending” South Vietnam, namely the country that we were 
destroying. The very fact McNamara can say that and quote Bernard 
Fall, who was the most knowledgeable person, who was utterly 
infuriated and outraged over this assault against South Vietnam, even 
though he was a hawk, who thought Saigon ought to rule the whole 
country — you can quote him and not see that that’s what he’s saying — 
that reveals a degree of moral blindness, not just in McNamara, but in 
the whole culture, that surpasses comment. 

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DB Just a couple more things on McNamara and his mea culpa. 
He’s sort of taken the Nazi Nuremberg defense, following orders, 
allegiance to the FOhrer, that’s why he didn’t speak out while he was 
Secretary of Defense. 

I don’t agree. He does not recognize that anything wrong was done. 
So there’s no question of a defense. 

DB On MacNeil-Lehrer, he now says he had misgivings about the 

What were the misgivings? The misgivings were that it might not 
succeed. Suppose that some Nazi general came around after Stalingrad 
and said, I realized after Stalingrad it was a mistake to fight a two-front 
war, but I did it anyway. That’s not the Nuremberg defense. That’s not 
even recognizing that a crime was committed. You’ve got to recognize 
that a crime was committed before you give a defense. McNamara can’t 
perceive that. Furthermore, I don’t say that as a criticism of McNamara. 
He is a dull, narrow technocrat who questioned nothing. He simply 
accepted the framework of beliefs of the people around him and that’s 
their framework. That’s the Kennedy liberals. We cannot commit a 
crime. It’s a contradiction in terms. Anything we do is by necessity not 
only right, but noble. Therefore there can’t be a crime. 

If you look at his mea culpa, he’s apologizing to the American people. 
He sent American soldiers to fight an unwinnable war, which he thought 
early on was unwinnable. The cost was to the U.S. It tore the country 
apart. It left people disillusioned and skeptical of the government. That’s 
the cost. Yes, there were those 3 million or more Vietnamese who got 
killed. The Cambodians and Laotians are totally missing from his story. 
There were a million or so of them. There’s no apology to them. 

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It’s dramatic to see how this is paired once again — I’ve been writing 
about this for years — with discussions of the inability of the Japanese to 
give a fully adequate apology for what they did during the Second World 
War. The Prime Minister of Japan has just been in China, where he 
apologized profusely for the atrocities that Japan carried out and the 
suffering of the people of Asia caused by Japanese aggression. That’s 
been discussed in the New York Times, critically. Because, well, yeah, 
sure, he said it, but there are some Japanese parliamentarians who 
think he shouldn’t have said it, so that the Japanese are still unwilling to 
face up to what they did. Next column over, we’re facing up to the fact 
that we harmed the U.S. by destroying three countries and killing 
millions of people. It’s pretty interesting. I don’t think any country in 
history could have exhibited this shocking force on the front page 
without comment. Incidentally, there’s no comment in the whole West. 
It’s not just the U.S. In the British and the European press, to the extent 
I read it, it’s exactly the same. This is part of Western culture. It’s what 
Adam Smith called the “savage injustice of the Europeans," which 
already in his day was destroying much of the world. 

DB Long before McNamara wrote this book you had compared him 
to Lenin. What did you mean by that? 

I compared some passages of articles of his in the late 1960s, 
speeches, on management and the necessity of management, how a 
well-managed society controlled from above was the ultimate in 
freedom. The reason is if you have really good management and 
everything’s under control and people are told what to do, under those 
conditions, he said, man can maximize his potential. I just compared 
that with standard Leninist views on vanguard parties, which are about 
the same. About the only difference is that McNamara brought God in, 

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and I suppose Lenin didn’t bring God in. He brought Marx in. 

DB The Times the day before yesterday had a front-page story: “The 
Radical Right Has an Unlikely Soulmate In the Leftist Politics of the 
Sixties.” It states: “There is a sense that the Vietnam era war turmoil 
tore a hole in the post-World War II social fabric and that although it 
was the left that opened the rift, it was the right that has driven a truck 
through it. " What do you think the newspaper of record has in mind in 
comparing the sixties with what’s happening in the nineties? 

That makes perfect sense from their point of view. Since everything 
the U.S. does is by necessity correct, except maybe it fails, or maybe it 
costs us too much, but otherwise it is by necessity correct, therefore the 
Vietnam War was of necessity correct and legitimate, except maybe for 
its failures, and the left was criticizing and therefore opened up this rift. 

I doubt if Pravda would have gotten to this level, but maybe it would 
have. Suppose you had read Pravda about the invasion of Afghanistan, 
which was criticized. They say, You’ve got these critics, like Sakharov 
and these people, who are tearing a hole in the body politic by 
undermining Russian authority by saying we shouldn’t defend the people 
of Afghanistan from terror. I suppose you can imagine that appearing in 
Pravda. I don’t know for certain that it did. If so, Pravda would have 
descended to the level of the New York Times, which sees it exactly that 
way. They saw it that way at the time, as did the leading doves, who 
questioned the war because of its apparent failures and its costs, 
primarily its costs to us. By those standards, no one had a right to 
criticize the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia: it worked, and casualties 
were very few. Virtually no one in the mainstream was capable of even 
imagining the position that everyone took in the case of Czechoslovakia: 
aggression is wrong, even if it succeeds and at a small cost. The 

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criticisms were so tepid they were embarrassing. Almost nobody, 
including me, dared to criticize the U.S. attack on South Vietnam. That’s 
like talking Hittite. Nobody even understood the words. They still don’t. 
But from their point of view it’s true. Actions taken to try to stop a 
murderous aggressive war that was massacring people and destroying 
three countries — that’s tearing wide the body politic, and now the right 
can drive a truck through it. So, yes, that’s the picture. 

DB You usually have the last word, but I’m going to say something 
here at the end. i want to just read you this quote. "During these last 
three decades, all my thoughts and actions in my entire life have been 
moved solely by the love and fidelity I feel for my people. This has 
given me the strength to make the most difficult of decisions, the like 
of which no mortal has ever made before.” Have a sense of where that 
comes from? 


DB It’s Hitler. 

k k k 

May 12, 1995 

DB I'm going to pick up the thread from the other day. We talked 
about history and memory, i just want to get a little closure to that. In 
general, who are the gatekeepers of history? 

Historians, of course. The educated classes in general. Part of their 
task is to shape our picture of the past in a way which is supportive of 

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power interests in the present. If they don’t do that, they probably will 
get marginalized in one way or another. 

DB How about some suggestions for people in terms of decoding 
and deciphering the propaganda? Are there any kinds of practical 
techniques? It’s a tough question. 

I actually think it’s a simple question. Use your common sense. You 
can point to examples. When you read a headline in the Wall Street 
Journal that says “American Oil Companies Fear Loss of Jobs in the 
Middle East," it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that “jobs" is being 
used to mean “profits.” When you read the account of the New York tax 
system which says they’re cutting down subsidies to mass transit, you 
can quickly understand that subsidies means gifts from people to 
themselves. What they’re doing is increasing taxes. You can go on and 
on, case by case. But there’s no trick other than just using your sense. 

DB Can you recommend some basic books for people? 

There are things that are helpful, like Howard Zinn’s People’s 
History, for example. It’s a good start to give you a picture of the world 
that’s different from the one you learned at school. It’s very accurate. 
And then it’s on from there. I hate to give suggestions. You just have to 
do what’s called “triangulating." You try to look at the world from 
different perspectives. You’re getting one perspective drilled into your 
head all the time, so you don’t need any more of that one. But look at 
other ones. There are others. There are independent journals, dissident 
scholarly literature, all sorts of things. One of the reasons I give rich 
footnotes is to answer that question, because a lot of people want to 
know. There are things I think are instructive, but you have to decide for 

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yourself what’s interesting for you. 

DB Jumping into the present and the political climate, you have 
likened it to Germany and Iran. What do you mean by that? 

I was referring to a specific phenomenon that’s becoming visible. 
How important it is is not entirely clear. But if you look at Germany in 
the late 1930s, or Iran around 1980, which is what I was talking about, 
there were big centers of power. In Germany it was the big industrialists. 
In Iran it was the bazaaris, the merchant class. They had an enemy in 
both cases. In the case of the big industrialists in Germany, it was the 
working class. They wanted to destroy the working class organizations. 
In the case of Iran, it was the Shah. They had helped in the organization 
of popular forces to overcome their enemies. In Germany it was the Nazi 
party. In Iran it was the fundamentalists. Then they both discovered 
something. The guys they had organized had ideas of their own, as did 
their leaders, and they weren’t necessarily their ideas. So by the late 
1930s, a lot of German industrialists were quite worried that they had a 
tiger by the tail in the case of Hitler. In Iran, they just lost. The 
fundamentalists took over and booted them out. 

If you look at the U.S. now, the Fortune 500, the real big business, 
they are just euphoric. Social policy has been designed to enrich them 
beyond their wildest dreams. The annual issue of Fortune devoted to the 
Fortune 500, which just came out this week, reports profits up 54% 
over last year on barely rising sales and virtually flat employment. This is 
the fourth straight year of double-digit profit growth, which is just 
unheard of. They expect it to continue. So they’re euphoric. They like a 
lot of this stuff. Most of what’s going on in Congress they just love. It’s 
all putting money in their pockets and smashing everyone else. 

But they’re also worried. They can read the headlines, which tell 

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them that these Gingrich freshmen congressmen are anti-big business, 
which is true. They don’t like big business. They like what they call 
“small business," which is not so small. The big plutocrats are what 
they don’t like, because they don’t distinguish them from big 
bureaucrats. A lot of their policies are of a kind which real corporate 
power is not very happy about. In part that’s true of what they call the 
“cultural scene." The only way they could mobilize their troops — you 
can’t organize people if you say, Join me, I’m going to smash you in the 
face. So the way you do it is say, Join me, and because you can hate 
your neighbor, put black teenagers in jail, or you’ll have religion, you 
organize people on the basis of fanaticism and extremism and hysteria 
and fear and then those people have their own ideas. There’s no 
question that there is a lot of concern about this. You can see it again in 
places like Fortune magazine. 

DB Let’s look at just some of the rhetoric today. These are quotes: 
“jackbooted government thugs,” “The final war has begun,” “Death to 
the new world order, " “feminazis, " and “environmental wackos. " People 
like G. Gordon Liddy on his radio talk show are advising listeners on 
how to kill federal agents: “Head shots, head shots, . . . kill the sons of 
bitches.” And Newt Gingrich saying that Democrats are “the enemy of 
normal Americans.” 

That’s the kind of talk that does trouble the CEOs. George Bush wrote 
a very angry letter resigning from the NRA for that kind of reason. He’s 
an old-fashioned sort of Eisenhower Republican, a corporate flack, and 
he doesn’t think they should be going around talking about killing federal 
agents. But more important than that, these people are worried. Right 
now Newt Gingrich can say anything he likes about Democrats as long 
as he maintains funding for the Pentagon, which is the big cash cow for 

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a large part of corporate America, including Newt Gingrich. But you can 
never tell when it’s going to get out of hand. And I suppose Newt 
Gingrich is worried that it’s going to get out of hand. He’s enough of a 
slave to big business to worry about the fact that the guys that he’s 
organizing can go off half-cocked from his point of view. 

There’s an interesting story about that in this morning’s Globe. Take a 
look at it before you leave. They have a columnist called David 
Shribman, who’s their rising hotshot. He just won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s 
their political columnist now, to the left-liberal side by American 
standards. He has an article about Newt Gingrich. He says, We liberals 
have been misunderstanding him. He’s not anti-government the way 
these fruitcakes are. He is in favor of government. But he wants 
government to do the right thing. So he wants government to be around 
to give laptop computers to the poor and all sorts of nice stuff. He just 
doesn’t want a lot of crazy bureaucrats hampering initiatives. So he’s 
really on our side. He quotes Michael Kazin, a left writer, saying that 
Gingrich is our kind of guy, a populist. He says that Gingrich is in favor 
of independence and entrepreneurial values and wants the government 
to stimulate that. The only thing he doesn’t mention is that Gingrich 
insists that the government fund private enterprise. He himself 
represents Cobb County, which gets more federal subsidies than all but 
two suburban counties in the U.S. That’s not mentioned. The reason is 
the class interest of suppressing the role of the government in tunneling 
funds from the poor to the rich. That has to be suppressed, even at the 
left-liberal side. But meanwhile they do recognize that Gingrich is more 
committed to rational corporate power than a lot of the people that he’s 
organized, who are dangerous and who could destroy things that they 
care about. 

DB Anthony Lewis, today or yesterday in the Times, got it wrong, 

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though. He said that Cobb County in Georgia receives more federal 
funding than any other county in the country. 

That’s incorrect. But finally they’re sort of noticing. However, what’s 
interesting is that this is suppression of the fact. To be able to suppress 
this all this time is astonishing. The suppression reflects the class 
interests. What Shribman's article indicates is that they recognize that 
they want to support what they see as a Gingrich-style Republicanism, 
which will indeed rely on huge state power to fund the rich, but not 
destroy the instruments of that power. 

DB Getting back to history and memory and the consequences of 
vitriolic speech, there was some notice of the Kent State killings after 
twenty-five years. Incidentally, no mention of Jackson State, in 
Mississippi, where two African-Americans were killed. If you recall the 
atmosphere, Nixon calling students "bums” and the Governor of Ohio, 
James Rhodes, the day before the shootings at Kent State, said, "We 
are going to eradicate the problem. These people just move from one 
campus to another and paralyze the community. They are worse than 
brownshirts, and also they’re worse than the night riders and 
vigilantes.” The next day were the killings. 

That’s true, and I'd worry about the kind of quotes you talk about, 
but I think that that’s barely the icing on the cake. The quadrennial 
analysis of public attitudes by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations 
just came out. Among other things, they investigate what people think is 
the most serious problem facing the country. By a long shot, it’s crime. 
Where did that come from? What does crime mean? And drugs are way 
high up. The OECD just did a study of drug money, about half a trillion 
dollars profit a year, they estimate. Over half of that passes through U.S. 

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banks. Is that what they’re talking about? Is that the crime and drugs 
people worry about? No. It’s like you say, the black teenager. Has that 
kind of crime gone up? No, as far as we can tell. In fact, most of what 
they’re calling crime is a kid caught with a joint in his pocket. Why do 
people think of that as the problem? That’s not because of Rush 
Limbaugh. That’s because of the mainstream commentary, which has 
stimulated fear of crime and shaped it in a very special sense to mean 
those superfluous people out there who are the wrong color and have 
the wrong genes. That’s what you’ve got to be afraid of. That’s a lot 
more important than Rush Limbaugh saying “feminazis." 

DB Conspiracy theories are nothing new in American history. 
Richard Hofstadter has written about The Paranoid style in American 
Politics. But there seems to me to be a difference now in terms of the 
instruments of purveying these theories. They have media. They have 
radio. People listen to it. 

That’s true, but I still feel that I'm more worried about the New York 
Times and the Boston Globe than I am about Rush Limbaugh. So I think 
that with all the crazed lunacy about black helicopters, the U.N., and 
the Council on Foreign Relations, it doesn’t begin to have the damaging 
effect of the way they shape public perceptions on issues like crime or 
like alleged free-market programs or welfare. That’s far more dangerous. 
For example, Americans feel that they’re being over-taxed to pay black 
mothers. In fact, our welfare system is miserly. It’s gone down very 
sharply in the last twenty years. We’re undertaxed. Those are things that 
really matter. 

DB In Language and Responsibility, in a discussion about FBI 
COINTELPRO operations and Watergate, you say that “one of the keys 

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to the whole thing (is that) everyone is led to think that what he knows 
represents a local exception. But the overall pattern remains hidden.” 
Is there a subtext to the Oklahoma City bombing there? 

I’m not sure exactly what you had in mind. In what sense? 

DB What’s going on underneath? 

The U.S. wants to be able to carry out Oklahoma City bombings in 
other countries, as we do, but they don’t want them to happen here. 
You're not supposed to blow up federal buildings here. That’s something 
we do, not something that’s done to us. Sure, they don’t like that. But 
as for subtext, they don’t like the fact that paramilitaries are out of 
control, that’s for sure. There have been fifty years of propaganda 
stimulating anti-government feeling. Here’s where I again don’t care so 
much about Rush Limbaugh as I do about the mainstream. There have 
been fifty years of propaganda which suppresses the fact that the 
government reflects powerful, private interests, and they’re the real 
source of power. 

So take the angry white males who are maybe joining what they 
mistakenly call militias, paramilitary forces. These people are angry. 
Most of them are high school graduates. They’re people whose incomes 
have dropped maybe 20% over the last fifteen years or so. They can no 
longer do what they think is the right thing for them to do, provide for 
their families. Maybe their wives have to go out and work. And maybe 
make more money than they do. Maybe the kids are running crazy 
because nobody’s paying attention to them. Their lives are falling apart. 
They’re angry. Who are they supposed to blame? You’re not supposed to 
blame the Fortune 500, because they’re invisible. They have been 
taught for fifty years now by intense propaganda, everything from the 

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entertainment media to school books, that all there is around is the 
government. If there’s anything going wrong, it’s the government’s fault. 
The government is somehow something that’s independent of external 
powers. So if your life is falling apart, blame the government. 

There are plenty of things wrong with the government. But what’s 
harmful to people about the government is that it’s a reflection of 
something else. And that other thing you don’t see. Why don’t you see 
that other thing? Because it’s been made invisible. So when you read 
Clinton campaign propaganda you’ve got workers and their firms but not 
owners and investors. That’s just the end result of fifty years of this stuff. 
Talking about your subtext, if people are angry and frightened, they will 
naturally turn to what they see. And what they’ve been taught to see is 
the government. 

There’s a reason why attention is focused on the government as the 
source of problems. It has a defect. It’s potentially democratic. Private 
corporations are not potentially democratic. The propaganda system 
does not want to get people to think, The government is something we 
can take over and we can use as our instrument of public power. They 
don’t want people to think that. And since you can’t think that, you get 
what’s called populism, but is not populism at all. It’s not the kind of 
populism that says, Fine, let’s take over the government and use it as an 
instrument to undermine and destroy private power, which has no right 
to exist. Nobody is saying that. All that you’re hearing is that there’s 
something bad about government, so let’s blow up the federal building. 

DB / think the most interesting commentary on Oklahoma City was 
actually on CNN on April 25. They were interviewing Stanley 
Bedlington, who was identified as an ex-CIA counterterrorism 
specialist. He said, right after the bombing, that there was a potential 
for more violence. Why? Bedlington said, Because of "the deteriorating 

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economic situation in rural America. ” I was stunned to hear that. 

It’s not just rural America. These people that he’s talking about 
happen to come from rural America. And it’s true that out in rural 
America, where there are fewer controls, you may tend to get 
paramilitaries forming more than in the slums. But the problems are in 
New York City and in Boston and right throughout the whole 
mainstream of the country. The problems simply reflect very objective 
facts. Real wages have in fact been declining for fifteen years and profits 
are zooming. The country is splitting in a noticeably Third World pattern. 
There’s a big superfluous population that nobody knows what to do 
with. So they toss them in jail. They want to make people afraid of 
them, so they’re building up fear of crime and craziness about welfare. 
That’s a real problem. Maybe in the rural counties is where they’re going 
to form paramilitary groups, but this is going to be everywhere. He’s 
right. It’s a very big problem. It’s a problem they face in every Third 
World country. That’s why they have death squads and security forces. 
They have to face that problem of all those people they are just crushing 
under foot. 

DB Let’s talk a little bit about conspiracy theories , because they’re 
quite prevalent. In a curious way, your work and Holly Sklar’s book on 
trilateralism are cited as evidence of conspiracy, somehow integrated 
with Freemasons and the Bilderbergers who all meet in the Bohemian 
Grove and the like. But it seems that if rhetoric is anti-regime, then 
there’s just a suspension of critical inquiry. There’s no insistence on 
evidence. Opinion is cited as proof. Then the chief arbiter or verifier is 
radio. “I heard it on the radio, therefore it’s true. ” 

You’re right. It’s like that. I can see when I talk on right-wing radio 

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that there’s some degree of resonance of a kind to what I’m saying that I 
don’t like. Bilderberg I’ve never mentioned. Bohemian Grove I don’t care 
about. The Trilateral Commission I’ve mentioned a few times. I read 
their stuff all the time. It’s so boring it’s not worth looking at. 

DB But you talk about the de facto world government. That’s what 
they talk about. 

I didn’t talk about the de facto world government. I quoted it from the 
Financial Times. I said, the Financial Times, the world’s leading 
business journal, is noticing that there is a de facto world government 
not of Freemasons, but of transnational corporations and institutions 
that they are spawning. So take a look at real centralized power, 
transnational corporations, who own most of the world. The Fortune 
500 now has 63% of U.S. gross domestic product, and the trans- 
nationals have a huge proportion of world trade and investment in their 
hands. They are spawning a set of quasi-governmental institutions. The 
Financial Times lists them: the World Bank, the IMF, then it was the 
GATT Council, now it’s the World Trade Organization. Sure, that’s their 
picture, and it’s a pretty accurate one. But that’s not a conspiracy, any 
more than corporate boardrooms are a conspiracy. 

DB The left has certainly not been free from this. The Christie 
Institute theories about secret teams running around, and the 
numerous JFK assassination theories. I wonder what the left has to 
offer people like Timothy McVeigh and Mark Koernke. They are 
certainly not listening to Alternative Radio and not reading your books. 
How can we reach them? 

I think the left has to reach them by doing what the left failed to do 

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the other night at the meeting we went to, when Decatur workers were 
coming here and asking for solidarity and support. That’s where the left 
ought to be. I don’t know Timothy McVeigh, but I think the left ought to 
be out there getting those guys to join unions and form grassroots 
organizations and take over their local governments. If the left can’t do 
that, it doesn’t deserve to exist. 

DB Just to explain , there was a Jobs with Justice meeting at MIT on 
May 9 . Striking and locked-out workers from Decatur (there are three 
actions going on there) were there to bring this to the attention of 
people. There were only about 75 people in the hall. It was kind of 
distressing. In the same hall, in the last couple of months, when you 
gave talks on East Timor and Colombia and the drug war there were 
very large turnouts. What do you attribute the low attendance to? 

It could be technical things, like maybe there wasn’t good publicity. I 
should say that this is the first talk that I’ve given in that big hall for 
probably twenty years which hasn’t been virtually overflowing. This is 
also the first talk that happened to involve solidarity with working 
people. I doubt that that’s a pure accident. I think that tells you 
something about where the left isn’t and where it ought to be. There was 
one other meeting that was less well attended than I expected. It was on 
the Contract with America, which again involved welfare mothers and 
poor people. 

DB It's kind of hard to predict what’s going to happen. There’s that 
Yeats poem “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot 
hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world . . . What rough beast . . . 
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” But in terms of Oklahoma 
City and now the call for a draconian increase in FBI powers of 

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surveillance, infiltration, and the like, what do you think is coming up? 

Before Oklahoma City, Congress had already rescinded the Fourth 
Amendment, the elimination of the exclusionary law, allowing basically 
illegal search. That was prior to Oklahoma City. So Oklahoma City may 
somewhat extend FBI powers. I don’t think it’s going to have a big 
effect. I think the things that are happening lie elsewhere. The so-called 
conservatives want a powerful, violent state, and they want it to have a 
powerful security system. So during the 1980s, the U.S. prison 
population more than tripled. It’s going up more. Under Clinton’s crime 
bill it’s going to go way up. The U.S. is virtually the only country— 
maybe Iraq, Iran, a few others — to let children be killed by the state, to 
have the death penalty for minors. The U.S. rarely signs international 
human rights conventions. We have a rotten record on that. But we just 
signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. We’re the 
177th country to sign it, which shows you how that goes. One of the 
provisions of that says that minors, meaning people under 19, cannot 
receive life imprisonment or the death penalty. We’ve got juveniles 
sitting on death row, so we’re in straight violation of what we just 
signed. We’re one of the very few countries that does that. This attack 
on the judicial system and the system of rights has nothing to do with 
Oklahoma City. It has to do with creating a much more punitive society 
which will deal somehow with the fact that an awful lot of people are 
useless for the one human value that still matters, namely, making 
profits. That’s way more important than whatever further rights the FBI 
may get as a result of Oklahoma City, in my opinion. These things are 
bad, like Rush Limbaugh is bad. But there are much more central things 
that are happening. 

DB Earlier I said you had compared the current situation with 

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Germany and Iran. What are your views on arguing by analogy? A lot of 
people all over the country were quick to bring up the Weimar 
Republic and even the Reichstag fire. Do you think that’s a good way to 
understand things, to talk about analogies? 

Analogies can be helpful. You don’t want to push them too hard. It’s 
worth noticing that the kinds of circumstances that we see are not 
without historical precedent. It’s not like they’re coming from Mars. So 
there have been situations that are not identical. You can look crucially 
at the differences. But you can learn something from looking at history. 

DB What about the political uses of Islam and Muslims and Arabs 
in terms of what happened right after the Oklahoma City bombing? 

Take my “friend" A.M. Rosenthal. I’m surprised the Times is willing 
to let him loose. He gives you such an insight into how that newspaper 
was running for years when he was in charge of it. He writes a regular 
column. The day after Oklahoma City he had a column basically saying, 
This just shows that we’re not dealing properly with Middle East 
terrorism. Let’s bomb them all over the place. He said, We don’t know 
yet who did it, but let’s bomb the Middle East anyway. Not in those 
words, that was the message, to borrow your term, the “subtext." It 
wasn’t very “sub," either. A couple of days later it turned out it was 
right-wing paramilitaries here. He wrote another column saying, This 
really shows that we’re not dealing with terrorism from the Middle East 
properly, so let’s be serious about it and deal with Middle East terrorism. 
They mean a very special kind of Middle East terrorism. They don’t 
mean the kind, for example, when Israeli planes bomb villages in 
Lebanon and murder people. That’s not terrorism they’re talking about. 

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DB Or the 1985 CIA bombing. 

They’re not talking about the CIA bombing in Beirut, which is the one 
really close analog to Oklahoma City. The discipline of the media in 
“forgetting” the 1985 Beirut car bombing, the worst in history, specially 
targeting civilians, was pretty impressive, particularly with all the 
laments about how middle America was coming to look like Beirut and 
the hysterical threats to bomb anyone thought to be responsible — for 
Oklahoma City, not Beirut. The analogy was repeatedly brought to the 
attention of the press. That I know just from personal experience. But 
ears mysteriously closed. For those interested, I wrote about it in a book 
edited by Alex George called Western State Terrorism, a book 
unmentionable and unreviewable in the U.S., as one could predict from 
the title. 

But they were nor talking about the Beirut bombing that was virtually 
duplicated in Oklahoma City. Not even contemporary ones. Israel 
regularly bombs civilian targets in Lebanon. They don’t pay attention to 
it. Occasionally you get a mention in the paper. Israel had Lebanon 
under blockade for a month. They wouldn’t let fishermen out. 
Blockading a country is an act of aggression. In fact, Israel has a 
permanent blockade on Lebanon, from Tyre to the south. But nobody 
talks about that. It's all in violation of unanimous U.N. Security Council 
resolutions which now are almost twenty years old that the U.S. signed. 
That’s not terrorism. In fact, they’re not even talking about Turkey. First 
of all invading Iraq, but in its own southeast corner it’s been carrying out 
murderous terrorism for years. It’s getting worse and worse. They are not 
even talking about the actual terrorism that they’re worried about. 

Take Pan Am 103. Take a look at Iran. Iran is now supposed to be 
the center of international terrorism. Any time any act takes place, it’s 
Iran. You don’t even wait for evidence. With one extremely interesting 

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exception: Pan Am 103 is not blamed on Iran. Why is that? How come 
that one example is not blamed on Iran? That’s the one example which 
very likely Iran is involved in. So how come the one where Iran is most 
likely involved is not blamed on it? It’s blamed on Libya, on very shaky 
grounds. I don’t think it takes very long to figure that one out. It’s very 
likely that the bombing of Pan Am 103 was a retaliatory bombing for 
the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the American naval vessel 
USS Vincennes in the Persian Gulf, which was a straight act of murder. 
There have already been several articles in the U.S. Naval Institute 
Proceedings. The most recent one was by a retired Marine lieutenant 
colonel describing in detail what happened there. The commander of the 
Vincennes got the Legion of Merit for it. The ship just focused its high- 
tech weaponry on a commercial airliner, knowing it was a commercial 
airliner, right in commercial air space, and shot it down, killing 290 
people. That was part of the U.S. tilt towards its friend Saddam Hussein 
during the Iraq-lran war. That’s not the kind of story that you want all 
over the front pages, so for that one act, Pan Am 103, Iran is not 
responsible, probably the one for which it is responsible. 

So the concern over Middle East terrorism is highly selective in all 
sorts of ways, just like the concern over Islamic fundamentalism. The 
most fundamentalist state in the world is Saudi Arabia. I don’t see a lot 
about that. Why? They do the job. They make sure the profits from oil 
come to the U.S., so they can be as fundamentalist as they like. This is 
the most shoddy and shallow propaganda. It’s amazing they can get 
away with it. 

DB I've always wondered where you got access to the U.S. Naval 
Institute Proceedings. Is that sent to you? Do you subscribe to it? 

I look for it. I must have seen a reference somewhere and then went 

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and looked. This story actually even finally made the mainstream press. 
Newsweek had a cover story on it two or three years ago. The first thing 
that I saw was something in the LA. Times. The commander of the 
vessel next to the Vincennes, David Carlson, had an op-ed where he 
said, We were standing and watching in amazement. It happened to 
mention that he had an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 
so I looked it up. Then I started keeping my eyes on it and found this 
much more recent one on the Navy cover-up. This article goes through 
the cover-up. It even ends up quoting some high Army officer saying, 
The U.S. Navy shouldn’t be allowed out on the high seas, they’re too 
dangerous. That’s not the kind of stuff you really want all over the place. 
It’s kind of amazing that with all of the talk about Iran, right now we’re 
embargoing Iran because they’re involved in terrorism. It’s a rogue state. 
Everybody’s wild about Pan Am 103, and somehow you can’t notice 
that that’s the one thing that’s not attributed to them and which they 
probably did. 

Also quite interesting is the fact that the U.S. has charged several 
Libyans, but is making sure they don’t go to trial. Libya has offered to 
have them tried in a neutral venue, like the Hague, but the U.S. and 
U.K. refuse — meaning they don’t want them tried unless they can 
control the trial. The British committee of families of the victims has 
been militantly critical of this refusal. The U.S. committee just goes 
along with Washington propaganda, as does the U.S. press. A 
documentary about all this was played in the British Parliament and on 
BBC TV. Here, PBS refused to run it, and commercial TV isn’t worth 
approaching. Try to find something about any of this in the media. 

DB You mentioned A.M. Rosenthal and his biases at the Times. But 
you don’t have to go that far. Right here in Boston you have a talk show 
host, Howie Carr, who said that the Oklahoma City bombing was done 

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by “a bunch of towelheads.” There was a little story, though, in 
Oklahoma City involving an Iraqi woman, a refugee. Did you hear about 

I don’t recall. 

DB Christopher Hitchens wrote about it in The Nation. It's one of 
the very few references I’ve seen. Saher Al-Saidi was seven months 
pregnant. Her house was attacked by a mob of rednecks screaming 
insults about Islam and Muslims. Windows were broken. She ran from 
room to room in fear and suffered a miscarriage. 

But that’s not from Howie Carr. That’s from years and years of 
perfectly mainstream publications presenting an image of Arab terrorists, 
Islamic fundamentalist crazies either attacking Israel or attacking us. 
The U.S. is in a state of national emergency now. President Clinton has 
declared a state of national emergency, because of the grave threat to 
our national security and national interest posed by Hezbollah in 
Lebanon and Hamas in the occupied territories. That’s not Howie Carr. 

DB To continue with the political uses of Islam, Willy Claes, the 
NATO Secretary General in Brussels, in February said, “Islamic 
fundamentalism is just as dangerous as communism. 

Is he referring to Saudi Arabia? No. It’s just like liberation theology. 
Anything that’s out of control is dangerous. If there’s some brand of 
Islamic fundamentalism that’s out of control, that’s dangerous. If there’s 
some brand of the Catholic church that’s out of control, that’s 
dangerous. If it’s a democratic politician in Guatemala who's out of 
control, that’s dangerous. If you’re out of control you’re dangerous. 

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Islamic fundamentalism is one of the ways in which a very repressed 
part of the world is beginning to organize itself independently. So 
naturally that’s unacceptable. And it’s not Islamic fundamentalism. You 
can tell that right off. The leading Islamic fundamentalist state is Saudi 
Arabia. Let’s go away from states. Take non-state actors. Who are the 
most extreme Islamic fundamentalists in the world? The ones who the 
U.S. supported in Afghanistan for ten years. They would beat anybody. 
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. You can’t get beyond that. He makes Saudi 
Arabia look mild. He got $6 billion of aid from the U.S. and Saudi 
Arabia. Right now he has been tearing the country apart. This isn’t Pol 
Pot. You don’t get any points for talking about the atrocities after the 
Americans pulled out. Here the Russians pulled out, and as soon as the 
Russians pulled out they started destroying the place. But it’s our guys 
destroying it. So therefore you have to look pretty hard to find it. Kabul 
has been wrecked. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people have 
been killed. Maybe hundreds of thousands of refugees. 

Mostly guys like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, our man, bombarding the 
place. Afghanistan has become one of the major centers of drug 
production. Our guys, they are fanatic Islamic fundamentalists, but we 
certainly weren’t worrying about them when we were pouring money 
into their pockets. 

DB And that CIA operation in Afghanistan has spilled over into 
Pakistan, where there’s severe drug addiction. You’ve written about 
this. Benazir Bhutto is now asking the U.S. to help with Pakistan’s 
terrorist problem. 

One thing I would mention is that when it’s a CIA operation, that 
means it’s a White House operation. It’s not CIA. They don’t do things 
on their own. 

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DB That’s a point you made about the recent disclosures about 

Let’s be serious about it. Maybe you’ll find a rogue operation now and 
then, but as far as I’m aware, overwhelmingly the CIA does what it’s told 
by the White House. So its role is to provide plausible denial for the 
White House, and people shouldn’t fall for that game. If it’s a CIA 

operation it’s because they were ordered to do it. They’re only part of the 


DB I’ve got a flight in less than an hour. My mind is going to the 

airport, so I’m not all here, but let’s just continue this for a few 

minutes longer. I want to ask you about the selective use of memory. I 
remember my mother telling me about her village in Turkish Armenia. 
It was paradise. I never heard a negative thing said about anything. 
Everyone was living in a sort of Edenesque country there. But thinking 
about you in the 1940s in Philadelphia with your family, what kind of 
information were you getting about what the Nazis were up to in 
Europe? Did you have a sense of what was unfolding there ? 

You mean in the 1930s? 

DB Not just in the 1930s, but the genocide. 

Everybody knew more or less what was going on. By 1943 at the 
latest it was pretty well known what was happening, and there was at 
least the beginning of a public outcry. Even before the war, the sense of 
growing terror was palpable in my parents’ circles. But take the 1930s, 
speaking of memories. The other night in the meeting on Decatur they 

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History and Memory 


showed a video on police violence. I remember that very well from 
1934-1935, with much worse scenes of police attacking. I remember I 
was with my mother on a trolley car. I must have been five years old. 
There was a textile strike. Women workers were picketing. We just 
passed by and saw a very violent police attack on women strikers, 
picketers outside, much worse than what we saw the other night in the 
video on Decatur, which was bad enough. So idyllic memories of 
childhood, I think one has to ask some questions about. In the 1930s it 
was pretty clear that the Nazis were a very ominous and dangerous force 
that was like a dark cloud over everything throughout my whole 
childhood. By the early 1940s, around the middle of the war, it was 
pretty obvious, maybe you didn’t know the details about Auschwitz, but 
the general picture was pretty clear. 

DB You were reading voraciously in those days. I think there’s a 
comment in the film Manufacturing Consent where you used to check 
out ten, twelve, fourteen books at a time from the library. 

Remember, in those days there were good library systems. That was 
one of the reasons you could survive the Depression. But I spent a lot of 
time at the downtown Philadelphia public library. It was the big public 
library that had everything. You couldn’t check books out from there 
because they didn’t allow it. But I was reading plenty of stuff, a lot of 
odd dissident journals, some of them crackpot, some of them 
interesting. All sorts of material. 

DB Again, bringing it to today, you encourage people to be 
skeptical. You often end a talk, Don’t believe anything i say. Go and 
find out for yourself. When does that skepticism, which I suggest is 
happening with some of these paramilitaries, switch into paranoia? 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

History and Memory 


Skepticism can lead to paranoia, but it certainly doesn’t have to. Any 
good scientist is skeptical all the time. Every time a professional journal 
comes in, the students read it with skepticism, if they’re any good, at 
least, because they know you’ve got to question and evaluate. But when 
you read a technical journal with skepticism, that doesn’t mean you 
assume it’s being prepared by the Bilderberg conference to undermine 
your mind. That’s quite a gap. The difference is that skepticism against 
a background of understanding and rationality is a very healthy attitude. 
Skepticism against a vacuum is extremely dangerous. The educational 
system and the doctrinal system have created vacuums. People’s minds 
are empty and confused because everything’s been driven out of them. 
In that case skepticism can quickly turn into paranoia. 

DB But there is a drumbeat of propaganda constantly going on. You 
sort of dismissed Limbaugh and what he represents, but he reaches 
twenty million listeners. We don’t have that kind of audience. 

We don’t, but commercial television and Hollywood have a much 
bigger audience. I’m not dismissing Limbaugh. I’m saying that that’s a 
peripheral phenomenon. Let’s take the kind of things, when I was a 
young adult, I was seeing in the movies, like On the Waterfront, a big, 
famous movie. That was typical of a genre. Tens of millions of dollars 
were put into making films like that, all of them with the same message. 
The message is, Unions are the enemy of the working man. The theme 
of that movie is Marlon Brando, upstanding, courageous young guy, 
throws union boss into the ocean and stands up for his rights. That was 
the key picture of very self-conscious propaganda running through the 
entertainment industry, the schools, the newspapers, everything else, 
saying, We are on one side, “we” being the working folks, like the guy 

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who happens to sit in the executive office and the guy on the assembly 
line, we’re all on one side. Then there are the really bad guys trying to 
destroy our lives, namely, the outsiders, the unions. We’ve got to defend 
ourselves from them. That has worked. That has led to the present 

Take a look at popular attitudes. I think about 80% of the population 
think that working people don’t have enough influence. A substantial 
number think that unions have too much influence. After NAFTA, the 
opinions were opposed to NAFTA on the same grounds that the labor 
unions opposed it, but they were opposed to the labor unions for having 
involved themselves in that dispute, namely, in advocating the positions 
that most of the population supported. That wasn’t Rush Limbaugh. 
That’s the result of decades — it goes back to the nineteenth century, but 
I mean in the modern period — of very intensive propaganda designed to 
make people lose the sense of solidarity and sympathy and mutual 
support and help for one another and democratization that unions stand 
for. When you wipe that degree of understanding and sympathy and 
support out of people’s heads, then you go right to paranoia. It’s that 
kind of thing that a demagogue like Limbaugh can exploit, but I think we 
should recognize where the problem lies. Not there. Much deeper. Fie 
wouldn’t get anywhere if he didn’t have this basis prepared for it. 

DB I'm not going to say “subtext, " but another theme, I wonder if 
you’re aware of this. The director of On the Waterfront was Elia Kazan. 
He sang to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Marlon 
Brando plays a character who is encouraged to and is justified in 
cooperating with the authorities. 

Elia Kazan was one of the people who was subjected to the 
McCarthyite routine, and yes, he sang to the House Un-American 

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Activities Committee. I don’t have any comment on that. You don’t 
blame people for not being heroes, for just being ordinary people. So I 
think he could have been more courageous than that, like, say, Lillian 
Heilman, but that’s easy for me to say. So, yes, he did. And it’s true 
that’s what happened. But that was just the most successful of a genre. 
It was kind of interesting. I think that movie came out the same year as 
Salt of the Earth, which is a very serious, low-budget but excellently 
done film. It’s a thousand times as good as On the Waterfront from any 
esthetic or other criteria, except it happened to be pro-union. It showed 
in a few small theaters around. That’s not the message that the multi- 
billion dollar entertainment industry was being organized to put across at 
that time. That’s a dramatic contrast, and it’s by no means the only one. 
That’s just typical of decades of propaganda. 

DB What do you have coming up In terms of trips and books? I 
know you have a new linguistics book that MIT is putting out. Any 
political books coming out? 

I hope so. I promised a couple, anyway. I was in Australia for a week 
and I promised them that I would write up the talks and they’ll publish it 
and maybe somebody will here. It's on a lot of different things. Then I 
also promised South End that I would try to write up and expand this 
series of articles on “Rollback" that’s been running in Z magazine. 

DB How about your book on the Middle east, Fateful Triangle? 
You’ve been talking about revising that as well. 

There have been many requests to update and revise it. Actually, the 
third chapter of the book of mine that just came out (World Orders Old 
and New), about a third of that book is kind of an updating. But I might 

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want to do that. There’s a lot to say about the region. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Board 

May 31, 1995 

DB Wednesday is usually, I forget, is it your golf or tennis day? 

Both, [laughs] 

DB / hate to remind you of things, Noam, but 1995 marks your 
fortieth year at MIT. 

That’s right, just finishing it 

DB How did you get that job? 

When I got out of four years at Harvard and the Society of Fellows, I 
had basically no formal profession, no credentials in any formal 
academic field, and had no particular commitment to the academic 
world. I wasn’t at all sure I was going to even try to continue. But I had 
some friends at MIT. Morris Halle, you know him? 

DB Of course, he has an office right across the hall from yours. 

We had been friends already for years as graduate students. He was 
here, doing part-time research and part-time teaching. There was a 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


project at the Research Lab of Electronics on machine translation which 
had an interest in linguists. So he and Roman Jakobson helped a bit. I 
met with the director of the laboratory. We talked a little bit about it. I 
said I would be happy to come but I wouldn’t work on that project, 
which I didn’t think had any interest for me, but I would be glad to come 
to do the kind of work that I was interested in and to do some teaching 
and so on. They thought that was fine. So I came and did the work I 
was interested in at the Research Lab of Electronics, the same place 
where I am now, this old Second World War wooden building. I started 
doing a little teaching on the side. 

Within about five years Morris and I had managed to arrange some 
things. People began being interested from outside. Visitors came. We 
pretty soon had a doctoral candidate who we had to put through the 
electrical engineering department because we didn’t have any 
department at the time. In 1960, I guess, we managed to start the 
official department. 

DB You Ve commented to me that when you joined MIT at around 
that time there was a group of you that were politically active and 

Not at that time. At that time it was basically unknown. In fact, I 
wouldn’t swear to this, but I think that I was the first person at the 
laboratory who refused to be cleared. It was a military-financed 
laboratory, and people routinely went through security clearance 
procedures. I just refused. I know everyone thought it was kind of weird, 
because the only effect of it was that I missed out on free trips on 
military air transport and things like that. It was considered strange 
enough that I suspect that I must have been the first person ever to do 
that. I didn’t know any politically active people here at all. 

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Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


DB So that came later, people like Wayne O’Neil and others. 

That’s ten years later. 

DB Did you feel that you had any allies internally? 

Internally? Political allies? No, not really. I didn’t expect to. My 
political life was somewhere else. I should say that within a few years I 
did meet people on the faculty who themselves had pretty similar 
interests and backgrounds to mine, some older people, for example 
Salvador Luria, a Nobel-Prize-winning biologist. I’ve forgotten whether 
he was here when I came. He was certainly here within a few years. He 
was older. But we shared plenty of interests. We must have met in the 
early 1960s. And there were other people. My friend Louis Kampf, and 
quite a few others. By the early 1960s people were kind of getting 

DB That research you were doing in the 1950s and 1960s, was any 
of it federally funded? 

Oh, yeah. Not only was it federally funded, it was militarily funded. In 
fact, whether anything is military-funded or not is pretty much a 
bookkeeping exercise. MIT runs primarily on soft money, not on 
endowments, not on tuition. How the soft money is distributed is a very 
mysterious matter which they don’t even understand in the bookkeeping 
department, as I know, having once been on a committee that tried to 
look into it years later. In a certain sense, everything is military-funded, 
even the music department. The sense in which that’s true is that if they 
didn’t have military funding for, say, the electrical engineering 

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department and had to go to other funds for that, that would cut off the 
departments like the music department. So it is primarily a bookkeeping 
matter. But if you look at books of mine that were written in the early 
1960s, you’ll notice a formal statement on the front page saying, This 
was funded with the support of, and then it lists the three services. The 
reason is that the laboratory itself is funded by the three services, or 
was, maybe still is, for all I know. 

DB How has the institution changed over the time that you have 
been there? 

The big change was to a certain extent a result of the changes in 
science and math education in the country that took place around 
1960. To some extent it was sparked by Sputnik, or at least that was 
used as the pretext for it. That created a great concern in Congress and 
around the country that somehow we were falling behind the Russians. 
That initiated and maybe was exploited for (you can argue about this) a 
lot of involvement in science education and math education in the 
schools. Within a short period of time students were coming to MIT who 
were much better trained. MIT started to shift at that time, more or less 
as a reflection of the students who were coming in, from an engineering 
school, which it had been in the 1950s — when I got here it was 
primarily an engineering school — to a science-math school, which it was 
by the mid-1960s. So many more students were majoring in the core 
sciences and mathematics. The classical engineering disciplines started 
to decline, people who were figuring out how to build bridges and things 
like that. Students were much less interested in that. The engineering 
departments that remained generally duplicated science curricula. So 
like in the electrical engineering department you wouldn’t be studying 
how to put circuits together, but you would be studying physics and 

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mathematics not unlike what you would be studying in the physics and 
math departments, except with applications to electrical engineering 
problems. The same is true of aeronautical engineering and mechanical 
engineering and so on. It became a science-based university instead of 
an engineering-based one. 

One consequence of this was a considerable growth in the 
humanities. The engineers of the 1950s were pretty vocationally 
oriented. For them the humanities were kind of a frill. It was something 
you took so that you could know how to talk to people politely. But by 
the 1960s, the science and math students, for one thing, had more 
time. They weren’t totally occupied with applications, and they just had 
other interests. That led to student pressure to expand the humanities 
programs. I was personally interested in that myself, especially with 
philosophy, so I was particularly involved in trying to develop the 
philosophy program from being kind of like a prep school, read-some- 
interesting-books type of program, to a real philosophy program, both 
undergraduate and graduate. 

The same happened in history. At about that time, other departments 
were spinning off. The biology and psychology and brain sciences 
departments all spun off at that time, actually from the very same 
electronics laboratory. The electronics laboratory where I was was a 
place where there was a very strange and complicated mixture of people 
interested in all sorts of offbeat topics, which later became departments, 
some of them huge, at the Institute. Biology and psychology and 
linguistics and philosophy and the computer sciences all came out of 
that milieu. But by the mid-1960s it was a very different sort of place, 
like a university based on science rather than a high-quality engineering 
school. You could see the shift in the nature of the students, the 
curricula, etc. 

It was still very apolitical, in a sense. I should say that the faculty 

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peace activities in this area, signing ads, organizing protests, were 
mostly based at MIT, not at Harvard, from the early 1960s. So even 
though overall the Institute has a more conservative cast than, say, 
Harvard, it’s here that the political activists mostly work. A few people 
drifted in on the periphery from Harvard, Howard Zinn from Boston 
University, but it was mainly MIT, even though it’s a very small group of 
faculty. Among the students, there was a small group, people like Mike 
Albert and Steve Shalom and others, who were students around the 
mid-1960s. They were very active starting around 1965, 1966. 

Also Louis Kampf and I were teaching at the time very large under- 
graduate courses with hundreds of students on contemporary affairs and 
social and political issues, the role of intellectuals, alternative vocations, 
things like that. They were bringing in lots of students as the ferment of 
the 1960s finally hit MIT. But it really wasn’t until late 1968 or early 
1969 that the Institute became really seriously politicized and became 
seriously involved in things like the antiwar movement and so on. 

DB You often give talks at MIT. Just in the last few months you’ve 
given talks on Colombia and the drug war, East Timor, and most 
recently in solidarity with the workers in Decatur, Illinois. 

This role of MIT as the central place for community and university- 
based activism has continued. So if an organization wants to have a 
meeting, they’re much more likely to have it here than at Harvard or 
Boston University. Much more likely. That’s why we always have these 
meetings where you show up at the same room, 26-100. 

DB The new CIA director is John Deutch. He’s a former MIT provost. 
Did you know him? 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


Not terribly well, but we knew each other. 

DB The reason I’m asking is that I figure when you retire from MIT 
you’ll have a new career at Langley (CIA headquarters). 

I don’t think so [chuckles]. We were actually friends and got along 
fine, although we disagreed on about as many things as two human 
beings can disagree about. I liked him. We got along very well together. 
He’s very honest, very direct. You know where you stand with him. We 
talked to each other. When we had disagreements, they were open, 
sharp, clear, honestly dealt with. I found it fine. I had no problem with 
him. I was one of the very few people on the faculty, I’m told, who was 
supporting his candidacy for the President of MIT. 

DB Which he didn’t get, right? 

There was faculty opposition. 

DB One of the questions you are often asked after your talks is the 
one about, How can you work at MIT? You’ve never had any 
interference with your work, have you? 

Quite the contrary. MIT has been very supportive. In the 1960s, 
particularly, I’m sure I was giving them plenty of trouble. I don’t know 
the figures now, but in 1969, when the only serious faculty/student 
inquiry into this was undertaken, into funding, there was a commission 
set up at the time of local ferment about military labs, and I was on it, 
and at that time MIT funding was almost entirely the Pentagon. About 
half the Institute’s budget was coming from two major military 
laboratories that they administered, and of the rest, the academic side, 

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it could have been something like 90% or so from the Pentagon. 
Something like that. Very high. So it was a Pentagon-based university. 
And I was at a military-funded lab. 

But I never had the slightest interference with anything I did. MIT 
had quite a good record on protecting academic freedom. I’m sure that 
they were under pressure, maybe not from the government, but certainly 
from alumni, I would imagine. I was very visible at the time in 
organizing protests and resistance. You know the record. It was very 
visible and pretty outspoken and far out. But we had no problems from 
them, nor did anyone, as far as I know, draft resisters, etc. 

DB That always surprises people when you tell them that. 

It shouldn’t. It just shows that they don’t understand how things 
work. A science-based university like this is much freer in those 

DB Let’s talk about some economic issues. I want to start with the 
Federal Reserve. What is its role? 

The Federal Reserve basically controls things like interest rates. It’s 
had various commitments or directives over the years. Originally its 
official goals, at least, were to keep inflation down and employment up. 
So one of its goals was to help achieve the goal of effectively full 
employment. That never means a hundred percent, but something 
approaching it. That goal has receded into the distance. Now its primary 
commitment is to preventing inflation. That’s a reflection of things that 
have happened in international financial markets. So the amount of 
unregulated financial capital in the world has exploded astronomically in 
the last twenty-five years. It moves around very fast, thanks to 

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telecommunications and so on. So there may be, let’s say, a trillion 
dollars a day moving around financial markets. It’s mostly speculating 
against currencies. It moves to places where it looks as though 
currencies are going to be stable with high unemployment and low 
economic growth, so that there are unlikely to be inflationary pressures. 
The Federal Reserve has been basically anti-inflation. If you are 
investing, say, in bonds, your biggest enemy is potential inflation, which 
means potential growth. Therefore you want to move away from places 
which are going to be stimulating the economy. The Federal Reserve 
interest rates will tend to go up to prevent stimulation of the economy 
and the possibility of inflation — the two tend to go together. So they’ve 
had a dampening effect on economic growth, also on jobs. They want 
unemployment to go up, basically. So unemployment goes up, the labor 
costs go down. There’s less pressure for wage increases. So the 
commitment to full employment, which was originally at least part of 
their formal commitment, has disappeared. 

DB There’s an interesting comment that Paul Volcker made in 
1979. He was the head of the Fed then. He said the living standard of 
the average American has to decline. That’s one policy that has 
certainly produced results. 

But it’s not just the Fed. This is part of general processes going on in 
the domestic and international economy and also very specific social 
policies. You don’t have to react to them this way. For example, there 
are ways to slow down the movement of financial capital and to protect 
currencies and to maintain stimulative policies by government. There are 
ways to do that, and those ways have been known for a long time. 
They’re not undertaken because of a commitment to certain social 
policies. Those social policies are basically to roll back the welfare state. 

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There’s a pretty good article on this, if you’re interested, in the current 
issue of Challenge magazine, a good journal of economics, written by a 
very fine international economist, David Felix. It’s on what’s called the 
Tobin tax. This is a proposal made by James Tobin back in 1978, a 
Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale. This was a well-known talk he 
gave. He was then President of the American Economic Association. 
This was his presidential address. This was the early stages of the 
process, but he pointed out that the flow of financial capital and the 
increase of it is going to have the effect of driving down growth rates and 
wages and it will also have a further effect of increasing inequality, 
concentrating wealth in narrower sectors of the population. He 
suggested at the time a tax, which would have to be international, which 
would penalize movement of financial funds just for speculation against 
currency. That’s called the Tobin tax. It’s been kicking around the UN for 
some years, but it’s never been implemented. David Felix’s point in this 
article is that, nobody knows for sure, but it could very well work, it 
could very well shift capital from economically useless speculative 
purposes, in fact, economically destructive speculative purposes, to 
more productive investment. It could very well have that effect. But even 
the sectors of private capital that would benefit from it have not 
supported it. He argues that the reason is that they have an overriding 
class interest, which overcomes their narrow profit interest. The 
overriding class interest is to use the fiscal crisis of states to undermine 
the social contract that’s been built up — to roll back the gains in welfare, 
union rights, labor rights, and so on. That interest is sufficient that they 
are willing to see this instrument used to cut back growth in investment, 
even the sectors that would benefit from it. It is a pretty plausible 
argument, I think. And the Federal Reserve is just a piece of it. 

DB The Fed is kind of the de facto central bank of the U.S. But it's 

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The Federal Reserve Bank 


private, right? 

No, it’s not private. It’s independent of specific government orders. 
The President can’t order it to do something. But its members and 
director are appointed through the government. 

DB So they’re presidential appointments? 

Yes. But then they’re essentially independent. 

DB It seems that the Fed and other central banks can’t seem to 
stabilize and control currency rates as they once could. 

That’s gone because the system was dismantled. There was a system 
up until the early 1970s. 

DB Bretton Woods. 


DB But there was this recent precipitous drop of the dollar against 
the yen and the mark , for example. The banks tried to stabilize the 
dollar . . . 

It’s not clear that they tried. Maybe the European banks did. It’s not 
at all clear that the American government did, or its banks. It’s just not 
at all obvious that that was their goal. They may be happy to see the 
dollar drop. 

DB But it is your contention that traders and speculators command 

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The Federal Reserve Bank 


more capital today than the central banks? 

I don’t think it’s my contention. It’s everybody’s contention. 

DB David Peterson alerted me to a passage in John Maynard 
Keynes’s classic work from the mid- 1930s, The General Theory of 
Employment, Interest, and Money. Keynes says.- “/4s the organization of 
investment markets improves, the risk of the predominance of 
speculation does, however, increase. Speculators may do no harm as 
bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise, but the position is serious 
when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation.” 

That’s happened. That’s why the Bretton Woods system, which 
Keynes was instrumental in helping to craft, did have mechanisms for 
regulation of currencies. The basic idea of the system was that the dollar 
was the international currency in those days because of the over- 
whelming industrial and economic power of the U.S., which was indeed 
overwhelming. So the dollar was the international currency. It was fixed 
relative to gold. Then other currencies were regulated relative to the 
dollar. There were various devices to allow a certain degree of flexibility, 
depending on economic growth, recession, and so on. That was the 
fundamental system. That was dismantled unilaterally by the U.S. in the 
early 1970s, when the U.S. determined that it no longer wanted to 
function as basically the international banker. This had to do with a lot 
of things: the growth of the more or less trilateral economic system (with 
the growth of the Japanese-based system and the growth of the 
German-based European system), and also the cost of the Vietnam War 
and its economic benefits to rivals of the U.S. These led to these 
decisions by the Nixon administration. 

At the time that these decisions were made, financial speculation 

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was a bubble. So estimates are that about ten percent of the capital in 
international exchanges at the time was for speculation and about ninety 
percent was related to the real economy, for investment and trade. By 
the 1990 those figures were reversed. It was about ninety percent 
speculation and ten percent investment and trade. David Felix did a 
recent study done for UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade 
and Development, in which he cites estimates that by 1994 it was 
about ninety-five percent speculative and about five percent real 
economy-related. So that’s pretty much what Keynes was worried about. 

DB To continue with Keynes, he said, “When the capital 
development of a country becomes a byproduct of the activities of a 
casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. ” 

By the 1980s, the international economy was being called a “casino 
economy.” There is a book with that title by a well-known British 
international economist, Susan Strange, The Casino Economy. And 
others were using the same phrase. It becomes in thrall to speculation. 
It’s this that James Tobin was warning about in 1978, when the whole 
process was still in its early stages. 

DB Do you think the current economic system can continue in this 
cycle of ups and downs, or is it prone to collapse? Have they built in 
enough safeguards to protect themselves from another 1929? 

Nobody has the slightest idea. In the early 1980s, when the debt 
crisis hit, the banks were worried that they wouldn’t be able to contain 
it. They were bailed out by the public. The huge Third World debt, 
which had been developed very fast, became a major problem when 
U.S. interest rates shot up, since a lot of the debt is keyed to the dollar. 

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The Federal Reserve Bank 


As interest rates shot up, for one thing, a ton of money began flowing 
out of places like Latin America. Not East Asia, because East Asia has 
capital controls. So rich Koreans couldn’t send their capital to the U.S. 
There are controls on that. But the wealth of Latin America, which is 
much more open to international markets for various historical reasons, 
simply flowed to U.S. banks. This led to a complete collapse in Latin 
America. In fact, the debt owed by Latin America is not all that different 
from the amount of capital flight from Latin America. Also, the interest 
rates on the debt went way up because they’re tied to U.S. interest 

Then came this huge debt crisis. It looked like major countries, 
Brazil, Mexico, and others, were going to default. The big banks were 
very worried. That was finessed mainly by a taxpayer bailout. It was 
picked up by the World Bank. One way or another, most of the debt was 
transferred over to the public domain and the banks were bailed out. 

In 1987 there was another apparent crisis. We just saw one in 
December 1994. Nobody knew what the domino effect might be of the 
Mexican collapse, whether it was going to start toppling other Third 
World financial markets, which are also based very heavily on 
speculation, just as the Mexican one was. The Clinton bailout was not 
so much to pay off the people who invested through speculation in 
Mexico. They had already pulled out their money or lost it. It was to 
prop up export capital to countries like Argentina and so on and to 
guarantee people against losses there. So it is a taxpayer bailout going to 
promote relatively risk-free investment through public funds, but not so 
much for the Mexican investors. This one seems to have been contained, 
too. But what will happen next time I don’t think anybody knows. 
Predictions on this are almost meaningless. Just take a look at what the 
international economists and the World Bank were predicting about 
Mexico, and that will tell you how reliable their forecasts are. Up until 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


the collapse, they were just euphoric about the prospects for Mexico, 
this great economic miracle. After the collapse they started explaining 
how they knew it all along. But try to find it before. 

DB To get back to the whole issue of employment, there was a 
notion in the U.S. that full employment was a desirable policy goal. 
That has changed dramatically. 

There no longer is even a theoretical commitment to full employment, 
as there had been from the late 1940s. There was a commitment, at 
least a theoretical commitment, which was sometimes partially 
implemented from the late 1940s on, but that’s gone. Now the 
commitment is to something different. It’s to what’s called the “natural 
rate of unemployment." There’s supposed to be some natural rate. As 
unemployment goes down below some natural rate of unemployment, 
then inflation is supposed to go up, and you want to make sure that 
unemployment stays at the natural place. People differ on what that is, 
but it’s pretty high, over six percent. 

DB That’s a pretty bogus figure. 

It’s not bogus. It has a certain meaning. It means that you want 
wages to stay low enough so that they don’t carry the risk of potential 

DB / say bogus in that a lot of people are simply not counted. 

But that’s always been true. What they call unemployment is a figure 
well below the number of unemployed. That’s always true. There are 
people who are off the labor market or who have given up, who are out 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


of the visible economy. So these are just the numbers. That was also 
true when they were aiming at three percent. 

DB Even if you work one hour a week, for example, you’re 
considered employed. 

I wouldn’t say “bogus," because everybody knows the way it’s done. 
The numbers measure something. They certainly don’t measure the 
number of people who have a regular job that they want. 

DB There seem to be some obvious advantages to corporate power 
to have a permanent army of the unemployed. 

Although we should bear in mind that by now they have an 
international army of the unemployed. During the latest recession, the 
Clinton recovery, this growth period of the last couple of years, there has 
not been a corresponding growth in wages, even though employment 
has gone up, which is what you’d expect in a normal labor market. As 
the employment goes up and the reserve army of unemployed goes 
down, you’d expect the pressure on wages to go up. But that hasn't 
happened. Nobody knows for certain, but it’s probable that a large part 
of the reason for that is that there always is the threat of simply 
transferring production elsewhere. You don’t even have to implement the 
threat. The fact that it’s there is enough. 

There’s nothing abstract about this. Take, say, the current strikes in 
Decatur, a crucial moment in labor history. Three major corporations, 
only one of which is based in the U.S. (one is based in Britain and one 
in Japan) are involved in trying to basically destroy some of the last 
remnants of the industrial labor unions in the U.S. in this old working- 
class town. One of them is a strict lockout. The other two are technically 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


strikes — "were," I should say, because the United Auto Workers have 
already collapsed. So there are only two still going. The others are 
strikes, but they’re strikes that the corporations wanted, because they 
wanted to be able to destroy the unions. 

They’ve explained how they could do it. Caterpillar, the U.S. -based 
one, first of all has profits coming out of its ears. It’s making huge 
profits, like other major corporations, so it’s got plenty of capital. There’s 
no problem that way. But furthermore, they’ve been using their profits 
over the past years to build up excess capacity in other countries. For 
example, they have plants in Brazil where they can get much cheaper 
labor and they can keep filling their international orders. Notice that 
that’s not done for reasons of economic efficiency. Quite the contrary. 
It’s done for power reasons. You don’t build up excess capacity for 
economic efficiency, but you do build it up for power reasons, as a 
threat against the domestic work force. And this is true in case after 

Take another current example. It indicates that this is not abstract. 
It’s very real. It is the trade war that’s going on with Japan. Have a close 
look at it. The U.S. is trying to get Japan to open its markets to auto 
parts manufactured by U.S. manufacturers. That’s the big issue. But 
when the Wall Street Journal interviewed the CEOs of the corporations 
that make the parts, they said of course they’d be delighted to have the 
Japanese markets open. But they said that they would not supply them 
from U.S. plants. They would mostly supply them from plants in Asia. 
Because they’ve built up a network of producers elsewhere where they 
again get much cheaper workers and, of course, are much closer to the 
Japanese market. So if Japan capitulates in this conflict, it’s not 
(according to the Wall Street Journal analysis, at least) very likely that 
there will be many more American jobs, though there will be plenty 
more American profits. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


DB Why is Clinton pushing Japan now? 

He would like to see the U.S. auto makers and their investors make 
more profits. 

DB What might happen if the World Trade Organization hears this 
case and it goes against the U.S. ? 

GATT, which was the predecessor of the World Trade Organization, 
has ruled against the U.S. on a number of occasions. They just don’t pay 
any attention. And nobody is going to put any pressure on the U.S. It’s 
just too big. There are mechanisms in the international trade 
organizations. GATT and the World Trade Organization have methods to 
penalize countries that don’t play by the rules. But just remember what 
the methods are. For example, if, say, Nicaragua objects to U.S. 
violations of the GATT rules, as it did, and if GATT concludes that 
Nicaragua is right, as it did, Nicaragua is then completely free to 
penalize the U.S. by raising its tariffs on U.S. imports, let’s say. That’s 
not even a joke. On the other hand, if the U.S. wants to do something to 
Nicaragua, they can kill it, by the same rules. But who’s going to try to 
close their markets to U.S. exports? 

DB A couple of months ago we talked about the World Court case 
involving Portugal and Australia on East Timor oil. Is there any update 
on that? 

There won’t be for several months. The litigation was completed 
around early February. Then the court takes a number of months to 
reach a decision. People are guessing probably in the fall. It won’t be 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


very easy to keep informed. As far as I’m aware — I haven’t checked it in 
the data base — but I haven’t seen any reference to the World Court case 
in the U.S. 

DB How did you hear about it? 

I know about it from other sources. For one thing, it’s all over the 
Australian, Portuguese, and European press. 

DB At a talk you gave at MIT on May 9th for the striking and locked- 
out workers in Decatur, you made a couple of interesting comments 
that I'd like you to expand on. You said the current political climate in 
the U.S. “is kind of an organizer’s dream. . . . It’s a situation in which 
the opportunities for organizing and rebuilding a democratic culture 
are very, very high." What’s the basis of your optimism? 

Actually, to give credit where it’s due, I was stealing a line from my 
friend Mike Albert, who made that comment. I think the comment is 
accurate. There is a general mood of fear and concern and 
disillusionment and cynicism and recognition that things aren’t going 
right which is based in reality. For maybe eighty percent of the 
population living standards have either been stagnant or have actually 
declined over the last fifteen years or so. They don’t see any hope of 
anything better. Their anger is mostly focused on government, not on the 
Fortune 500. But that’s the result of very effective propaganda over 
many years, which kind of puts in the shadow the source of decision 
making. But the concerns are there. If they can be mobilized, there 
could be a very constructive response. Again, let’s make it concrete. 
Take these people who call themselves “militias." They’re not militias, of 
course. Militias are things set up by states. But these paramilitary 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


organizations that are called militias — people like the Timothy 
McVeighs, assuming that the government’s story is accurate — if you look 
at those people, who are they? They’re mostly white, working-class men 
with something like high school educations. They’re pretty much the 
kind of people who were building the CIO sixty years ago. Why aren’t 
they doing something similar now? It’s an organizer’s dream, but they’re 
not being organized. 

DB Right. 

In fact, you remember in the meeting, when the worker from Staley 
was talking? 

DB Very well. 

I thought he gave a very eloquent talk. I don’t know if you have it on 
tape, but if you do you ought to play it. He’s describing his picture of 
what he wanted his life to be and thought it ought to be. I'll bet you that 
if you were to pick a person at random from those paramilitary groups, 
you’d get the same picture or something similar to it. If people like the 
guy who was talking are driven — if that life is taken away from them, 
and the possibilities of their having a meaningful existence with serious 
work and family life and the rest of what he was saying — there’s nothing 
unreasonable that he was asking for, not at all. In fact, it was 
praiseworthy. But if those possibilities are taken away, they’re going to 
go in one of two directions. Either they too will be doing something like 
joining paramilitary groups, or some other destructive activity (there are 
plenty of possibilities) or they will be the people who will rebuild the 
civil society that’s being dismantled and restore some semblance of a 
democratic system. The differences between him and the people in the 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


paramilitary groups I think are differences of commitment and 
understanding, not so much a social background or even goals, 

DB / noticed particularly after you came back from Australia in late 
January your spirits were really up and you had a lot of energy. It 
seems to have sustained itself through this whole spring period. Am I 
seeing you correctly? 

I don’t know. It was a kind of a shot in the arm in many ways. It was 
sort of exhilarating. But I doubt that it would have been very different. 
There’s a kind of natural cycle of activism and things to do and energy 
and a decline as things quiet down. 

DB Your academic year is almost over. 

But it’s not just the academic year. The point is that the rhythm of 
activism in the U.S., meaning organized activities, meetings, talks, and 
so on, that’s pretty correlated with the academic year. So things do die 
down around June. 

DB Are you looking forward to the summer at Weitfieet, on the 

Yes. Plenty of work to do. It’ll be good to be away for a bit, and I’ve 
got a ton of things to do. 

DB And you get a little sailing and swimming in on the side? 

I hope so. We’ll see. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

The Federal Reserve Bank 


DB See you at the Z Media Institute in Woods Hole in a few weeks. 
Take care. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give 
to the Greedy 

October 31 and November 3, 1995 

DB You Ve been following the World Court case, the Timor Gap 
Treaty involving Portugal and Australia. What’s happened with that? 

On June 30th the World Court announced its decision, actually non- 
decision. It decided to evade the issue. There were procedural issues, 
like, Can they go ahead at all with Indonesia not there, and then if they 
had agreed to that there would have been the substantive issues, but 
they stopped on the procedural issues. On a vote of 12-3, they said that 
they could not proceed without Indonesia present, so the issue’s dead. 
On the other hand, if you read the whole ruling, it’s not completely 
empty. For example, they did say that there can be no doubt under 
international law that East Timor has the inalienable right of self- 
determination; but they said they can’t proceed any further on the 
technical matter of the treaty without one of the parties present, and 
Indonesia refuses to take part, just like the U.S. on Nicaragua. In 
Nicaragua they did go ahead, but on this one they didn’t. 

DB You’ve commented on the relative power of Australia vis-a-vis 
Portugal in arguing this case. 

I haven’t seen the whole record, but what I saw of Portugal’s case 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


didn’t look to me very impressive. And Australia had (again, what I saw 
of it) they did it cleverly in the legal sense. After all, we have to 
remember that even at the World Court or the Supreme Court the law is 
to a considerable extent a sort of duel where truth and significance are 
around the fringes somewhere. A lot of it is show and technique. One 
thing that Australia brought up that embarrassed Portugal a lot, 
although it’s irrelevant, had to do with their dealings with Morocco and 
Western Sahara, which the Australians brought up to show, You’re just 
being hypocritical. Two seconds’ worth of thought shows that whether 
they’re being hypocritical or not has zero to do with this case. But in the 
court deliberations and the colloquy they apparently have a lot to do 
with it. That’s standard courtroom procedure. And the Australians 
seemed pretty good at that. It’s a First World country, and they know 
how to play these games. 

DB I’m not familiar with the Portuguese position. Are they in favor 
of the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara? 

I don’t know the exact details, but they apparently made some kind 
of deal with Morocco about maybe Western Saharan minerals or 
something. The Australians brought this up and said, This is a parallel, 
so how can you even bring up the case of East Timor? At most what it 
shows is that Portugal is hypocritical, which is not the issue. But as 
courts work, it was an issue. 

DB You Ve just returned from a series of talks in Washington and 
Oregon. There were the by now customary huge turnouts and standing 
ovations and the like. But I sense you feel some disquiet. What’s that 
about ? 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


To tell you the honest truth, when I see a huge mob, which is pretty 
common these days, I have a mixture of feelings. Partly I’m sort of 
depressed about it, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there’s just too 
much personalization. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s worrisome. The 
other thing is that the ratio of passive participation to active engagement 
is way too high. These were well-arranged talks. For example, they did 
what a lot of people don’t do and ought to do. Every place I went there 
were a dozen tables outside with every conceivable organization having 
leaflets and handouts and sign-up sheets and telling what they’re up to. 
So if people want to do anything there are easy answers to what you can 
do in your own community. The question that comes up over and over 
again, and I don’t really have an answer still, (really, I don’t know any 
other people who have answers to them), is, It’s terrible, awful, getting 
worse. What do we do? Tell me the answer. The trouble is, there has 
not in history ever been any answer other than, Get to work on it. 

There are a thousand different ways of getting to work on it. For one 
thing, there’s no “it." There’s lots of different things. You can think of 
long-term goals and visions you have in mind, but even if that’s what 
you’re focused on, you’re going to have to take steps towards them. The 
steps can be in all kinds of directions, from caring about starving 
children in Central America or Africa, to working on the rights of working 
people here, to worrying about the fact that the environment’s in serious 
danger. There’s no one thing that’s the right thing to do. It depends on 
what your interests are and what’s going on and what the problems are 
and so on. And you have to deal with them. There’s very little that 
anybody can do about these things alone. Occasionally somebody can, 
but it’s marginal. Mainly you work with other people to try to develop 
ideas and learn more about it and figure out appropriate tactics for the 
situation in question and deal with them and try to develop more 
support. That’s the way everything happens, whether it’s small changes 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


or huge changes. 

If there is a magic answer, I don’t know it But it sounds to me as if 
the tone of the questions and part of the disparity between listening and 
acting suggests — I’m sure this is unfair — Tell me something that’s going 
to work pretty soon or else I'm not going to bother, because I've got 
other things to do. Nothing is going to work pretty soon, at least if it’s 
worth doing, nor has that ever been the case. 

To get back to the point, even in talks like these, the organizers told 
me they did get a fair amount of apparent engagement. People would 
ask, Can I join your group? or What can I do? or Do you have some 
suggestions? If that works, okay, it’s fine. But usually, there’s a kind of 
chasm between the scale of the audience, and even its immediate 
reaction, and the follow-up. That’s depressing. 

DB You continue to be in tremendous demand for these speaking 
engagements. Are you considering stopping? 

I would be delighted to stop. For me it’s not a great joy, frankly. I do 
it because I like to do it. You meet wonderful people and they’re doing 
terrific things. It’s the most important thing I can imagine doing. But if 
the world would go away, I'd be happy to stop. What ought to be 
happening is that a lot of younger people ought to be coming along and 
doing all these things. If that happens, fine. I’m glad to drift off into the 
background. That’s fine by me. It’s not happening much. That’s another 
thing that I worry about. There’s a real invisibility of left intellectuals 
who might get involved. I’m not talking about people who want to come 
by and say, okay, I’m your leader. Follow me. I'll run your affairs. 
There’s always plenty of those people around. But the kind of people 
who are just always doing things, like whether it was workers’ education 
or being in the streets or being around where there’s something they can 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


contribute, helping organizing — that’s always been part of the vocation 
of intellectuals from Russell and Dewey on to people whose names you 
never heard of but who are doing important things. There’s a visible gap 
there today, for all kinds of reasons. A number of people involved in 
these things have been talking about it. I’m sure you’ve heard of others. 

DB / wouldn’t entirely agree. There are some voices out there , like 
Holly Sklar, Winona LaDuke, and others that represent a younger 

It’s not zero. But I think it’s nothing like the scale of what it ought to 
be or indeed has been in the past. Maybe it was that way in the past for 
not great reasons. A lot of those people were around the periphery of, 
say, the Communist Party, which had its own serious problems. But 
whatever the reasons, I think there’s a very detectable fact. There’s 
plenty of left intellectuals. They’re just doing other things. Most of those 
things are not related to, are sometimes even subversive to these kinds 
of activities. 

DB A talk you gave in Martha’s Vineyard in late August on corporate 
power was broadcast on C-SPAN a couple of weeks ago. What’s been 
the response to that? 

The usual. There’s a huge flood of letters which I’m trying to answer, 
slowly. Many of them are mixed. Many of them are very engaged, very 
concerned. People say, It’s terrible. I’m glad somebody’s talking about it. 

I think the same way. What can I do, very often. There’s a strange 
fringe. A fair number of people interpret me as saying things that are 
very remote from what I mean. I’ll get a very enthusiastic letter saying 
this is great, I’m so glad to hear it, marvelous and wonderful, thanks, 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


etc. I'd like to share with you what I've done about this. Then comes 
some document which is in my view often off the wall, but anyway 
completely unrelated to anything I’m talking about. So somewhere we’re 
not connecting. I think I even sort of know why. There’s a strange 
cultural phenomenon going on. It’s connected with this enormous 
growth of cultism, irrationality, dissociation, separateness, and isolation. 
All of this is going together. I think another aspect is the way the 
population is reacting to what’s happening to them. By margins that are 
by now so overwhelming that it’s even front-page news, people are 
strenuously opposed to everything that’s going on and are frightened and 
angry and are reacting like punch-drunk fighters. They’re just too alone, 
both in their personal lives and associations and also intellectually, 
without anything to grasp. They don’t know how to respond except in 
irrational ways. In some ways it has sort of the tone of a devastated 
peasant society after a plague swept it or an army went through and 
ruined everything. People have just dissolved into inability to respond. 

It’s kind of dramatic when you take, say, the opposite extreme in the 
hemisphere: Haiti. Here’s the poorest country in the hemisphere. It’s 
suffered enormous terror. People live in complete misery. I've seen a lot 
of Third World poverty, but it’s pretty hard to match what you find in the 
marketplaces in Port-au-Prince, let alone the hills. Here you have the 
worst conceivable situation, unimaginably horrible conditions. Poor 
people, people in the slums, peasants in the hills, managed to create out 
of their own activity a very lively, vibrant civil society with grassroots 
movements and associations and unions and ideas and commitment 
and hope and enthusiasm and so on which was astonishing in scale, so 
much so that without any resources they were able to take over the 
political system. Of course it’s Haiti, so the next thing that comes is the 
hammer on your head, which we sort of help to wield, but that’s another 
story. However, even after it all, apparently, it still survives. That’s under 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


the worst imaginable conditions. 

Then you come to the U.S., the best imaginable conditions, and 
people simply haven’t a clue as to how to respond. The idea that we 
have to go to Haiti to teach them about democracy ought to have 
everyone in stitches. We ought to go there and learn something about 
democracy. People are asking the question here, What do I do? Go ask 
some illiterate Haitian peasant. They seem to know what to do. That’s 
what you should do. 

There’s another aspect to this, another question that’s pretty 
common. I commonly say, and I believe, that this is a very free society, 
at least for people who are relatively privileged, which is an enormous 
number of people. The capacity of the government to coerce is very 
slight. A very common response (I heard it any number of times on this 
latest tour, but elsewhere as well) is, What about Kent State? 
Incidentally, not Jackson State. That rarely comes up. What about Joe 
McCarthy? Even that doesn’t get mentioned because that wouldn’t be 
relevant. I said “relatively privileged people.” If you’re a black organizer 
in the slums, sure, you have a lot of problems. But most of us aren’t. 
Anyhow, the sense that there is repression here is enormous. In 
comparison, I was in Haiti briefly right at the height of the terror, and 
people were scared out of their wits, and rightly, but they didn’t feel they 
had to stop because maybe someday there would be repression. If you 
compare the amount of repression that there is here with what there is 
in most of the world, where people don’t even think about it — they just 
continue — it’s pretty shocking. 

DB So that perception of omnipotent government power, do you 
attribute that to propaganda? 

In a very broad sense I’d attribute it to propaganda, but here you 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


have to take the term “propaganda" pretty broadly. The whole doctrinal 
system, including the entertainment industry, the corporate media, the 
educational system, the political system, and everything else, there’s a 
public relations industry and a huge system that has been devoting itself 
for a long time very intensively and even self-consciously since the 
Second World War towards several tasks. One of them is demonizing 
unions. Another is making people hate and fear the government, which 
you might think is a little contradictory, since they control the 
government. But it’s not. There are plenty of things wrong with the 
government. But that’s not what they’re worried about. What they’re 
worried about is the one thing that’s right about it, namely, it’s 
potentially influenceable by the population. 

That’s not true of private tyrannies. General Electric is not 
influenceable by the population except very indirectly through regulatory 
mechanisms which are very weak and which they mostly control 
anyhow. But you can’t vote to decide what they ought to do, and you 
can’t participate in those decisions. Those are tyrannies. Imagine 
yourself in the office of a public relations firm trying to turn people into 
the ideal state, namely manipulable atoms of consumption who are 
going to devote their energies to buying things that they don’t want 
because you tell them that’s what they want — advertising. They’re never 
going to get together to challenge anything, and they won’t have a 
thought in their heads except doing what they’re told. A perfect utopia. 
Suppose you’re trying to do that. What you do is get them to hate and 
fear the government, fear the bigness of the government. But not look at 
the Fortune 500, nor even medium-sized businesses, not ask how they 
work, not ask what were truisms to important mainstream political 
economists like Robert Brady sixty years ago, and in fact to the working- 
class movement throughout its history. These things are just tyrannical, 
totalitarian systems. You don’t want people to see that. You want them 

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Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


to worry about the one thing that they might get involved in and that 
might even protect them from the depredations of private power. What 
would make sense would be to develop a mood of anti-politics. And it’s 
worked. People hate the government, fear the government, are worried 
about the bureaucrats. 

Take, say, health. A lot of concern that government bureaucrats will 
be controlling it. There are many more bureaucrats in insurance offices 
controlling you. But that’s not what people worry about. It’s not those 
pointy-headed bureaucrats in insurance offices who are making us fill 
out these forms and telling us what to do and we’ve got to pay for their 
lunches and their advertising while they propagandize us. That’s not 
what people’s anger and fear is focused on. What it’s focused on, 
through very conscious manipulation and perfectly rational design, is 
this dangerous federal bureaucracy. 

Actually, what’s going on now with the attempt at devolution, 
reducing decision making to the state level — that makes great sense if 
you believe in tyranny. There are circumstances in which regionalization 
would be a very good move. Devolution, lowering the level of power and 
decisionmaking closer to the popular level, could be a step toward 
democracy, but not when you’ve got private tyrannies around. When 
you’ve got private tyrannies around, the only institution that at least in 
part reflects public involvement, that can cope with them, is a very 
powerful one, namely, the federal government. Let’s say you send block 
grants down to the state. That’s a way of guaranteeing that they’re not 
going to get to poor people. Any even middle-sized business has all 
kinds of ways of pressuring states to make sure that that money ends up 
in their pockets and not in the pockets of hungry children. People can do 
this through regressive fiscal measures, the whole range of subsidies 
that governmental institutions provide to private powers that can 
threaten them — I'll move to Tennessee tomorrow — so sure, devolution 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


under these circumstances is a great way to increase tyranny and to 
decrease the threat of democracy as well as to shift resources even more 
dramatically toward the rich and away from the poor. That’s the obvious 
consequence of devolution. But I’ve never seen it discussed in the 
mainstream, although it’s the obvious point. 

What’s discussed is complete irrelevancies, like whether we can trust 
the governors to care for the poor. What’s that got to do with anything? 
It’s totally meaningless. But that kind of absurdity is what’s discussed, 
but not the obvious, overwhelming fact that distributing governmental 
resources to the lower levels will simply make them more susceptible to 
influence and control by private power. That’s the major fact. And it’s 
part of the same anti-politics. We want to weaken the federal 

Incidentally, that’s only half true. The federal government is not being 
weakened. It’s just being changed. The security system is going up, not 
only the Pentagon, but even the internal security system, jails, etc. That 
aspect of the government is going up. That’s not just for control, 
although it’s partly for that. It’s also because it’s part of the way of 
transferring resources to the rich, which is virtually never discussed. In 
fact, it’s almost off the agenda, unless you read the business press. But 
it’s overwhelmingly significant. It ought to be a front-page article every 
day. By now it is so obvious it’s hard to miss. The Russians are gone. 
The Pentagon stays the same, in fact it’s even going up. We were told 
for fifty years, which of course was always ridiculous, that we need this 
huge military to defend us from the Russians. How stupid can you be, 
and how indoctrinated can you be? Don’t you ever ask a question about 
what happened? What happened is, it’s there for the same reason it 
always was. How else are Newt Gingrich’s rich constituents going to 
stay rich? You obviously can’t subject them to market discipline. They’ll 
be out selling rags. They wouldn’t know what it means to exist in a 

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market. What they know is, the government puts money in their 
pockets, and the main way it does it is through the whole Pentagon 
system. In fact, the criminal security system is beginning to take on this 
character. It’s reached, if not the scale of the Pentagon, it’s reached a 
sufficient scale so that the big investment firms and even high-tech 
industry, defense industry, are getting intrigued by the prospects of 
feeding at another public cash cow. That’s going up. So it’s not that the 
government is getting weaker. 

But this long and very successful effort over many, many years to get 
people to focus their fears and angers and hatred on the government has 
had its effect. We all know there’s plenty to be upset about there. The 
primary thing to be upset about is that it is not under popular influence. 
It is under the influence of the private powers. That’s the primary source 
of things we ought to worry about. But then to deal with that by giving 
private, unaccountable power even more power is just beyond absurdity. 
It’s a real achievement of doctrinal managers to have been able to carry 
this off. 

DB You’ll recall Orwell’s Animal Farm: Two feet bad, four feet good. 
Public sector bad, private sector good. It’s kind of playing out right 

It’s kind of intriguing. Economists know that this is mostly nonsense. 
But they don’t talk about it, except to each other. If you really look at the 
mantras, take, say, “Public sector bad." What does that mean? Is there 
some evidence that privatization is a good idea? It’s just something you 
repeat because it’s drilled into your head. Sure, privatization makes 
things more efficient. Does it? There are experiences. For example, we 
can look at Mexico. What privatization did was rapidly increase the 
number of millionaires, accelerate the decline of real wages and social 

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conditions. Did it make things better? Well, yes, for 24 billionaires. You 
can object and say, That’s Mexico, a corrupt Third World country. So 
let’s take England, which is a couple of steps ahead of us in 
privatization. Under Thatcher they privatized the water system. It was a 
public utility. So now it’s private. What’s happened? You can even read 
about it on the front page of the Financial Times. You don’t have to go 
to obscure publications any more. And they’re pretty irate. What 
happened is, profits have gone through the roof, prices have gone way 
up, and service has gone way down. In fact, sooner or later, it’s not very 
far from now you’ll be hearing proposals from the private owners that it’s 
not cost-effective to deliver water to scattered or small communities. 
What they ought to do is go to a pump in the center of town and pick it 
up with buckets because any smart economist can prove that that’s 
more cost-effective and improves the GNP and that’s the best 
distribution of resources. Sure, that’s privatization. 

And, not for obscure reasons, a private corporation is not in the 
business of being humanitarian. It’s in the business of increasing profit 
and market share. Doing that typically is extremely harmful to the 
general population. It may make some numbers look good. It may create 
what’s called an “economic miracle," meaning great for investors and 
murderous for the population. But there’s no reason to think it’s a good 
thing. What’s claimed is, look at the inefficiency and corruption of the 
public institutions, which is true. Are the private ones better? The 
evidence for this is, as far as I know, nonexistent. What can be pointed 
out, and it’s correct, is that public industrial systems, like the Brazilian 
steel industry, often lost money. But that loss of money was part of a 
way of subsidizing private industry. So if you keep steel prices artificially 
low, that will be a gain for the people who are using steel, even though 
that system will run at a loss. 

On the other hand, if you think about the effect over the whole 

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economy, it’s much more complicated a story, and I don’t think there’s 
any single answer to it. Sometimes private industry has been efficient, 
and sometimes even helpful to people, which is quite different from 
being inefficient, in fact often unrelated to it. Sometimes it has, and 
many times it hasn’t. It depends on the circumstances, on factors that 
people don't understand very well. But the idea that somehow 
privatization automatically improves things is absurd. 

DB In Australia earlier this year you commented that you felt like 
you were in somewhat of an odd situation in terms of your own political 
philosophy. You are defending the notion of the state and the role of 
the state , that the state has an active role to play to protect people’s 

This was actually an address at an anarchist conference. I pointed 
out what I think is true, that your goals and your visions are often in 
direct conflict. Visions are long-term things, what you’d like to achieve 
down the road. But if we mean by goals that which we’re trying to do 
tomorrow, they can often appear to be in conflict with long-term visions. 
It’s not really a conflict. I think we’re in such a case right now. In the 
long term I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated 
and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with 
federalism and associations and so on. Sure, in the long term that’s my 
vision. On the other hand, right now I'd like to strengthen the federal 
government. The reason is, we live in this world, not some other world. 
And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private 
power which are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as 
anything humans have devised, and they have extraordinary power. 
They are unaccountable to the public. There’s only one way of defending 
rights that have been attained or extending their scope in the face of 

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these private powers, and that’s to maintain the one form of illegitimate 
power that happens to be somewhat responsive to the public and which 
the public can indeed influence. So you end up supporting centralized 
state power even though you oppose it. People who think there is a 
contradiction in that just aren’t thinking very clearly. 

DB There are two visions of the role of government. James Madison 
in 1 787 saw its role as “to protect the minority of the opulent against 
the majority.” Then you have FDR in 1937 saying, “The test of our 
nation’s progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of 
those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who 
have little.” Obviously one of those visions is dominant today. Why? 

In the case of Madison, you have to be a little more careful. That was 
indeed Madison’s main theme, and that’s what you ought to learn in 
elementary school, because that in fact won. The Constitution was 
framed in Madisonian terms. He had a more complex argument. He was 
strongly opposed to democracy and warned against it. He talked about 
England, which was the model of the day, and said, If those guys had 
democracy over there the people would get together and take over the 
estates of the landed proprietors, and use their property for themselves 
instead of allowing the rich and powerful to maintain it. So obviously we 
can’t have democracy. We don’t want anything like that to happen here. 
So democracy is a bad thing. The prime responsibility of government is 
to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority, and we have 
to set up the constitutional system so that this will work. 

But there’s a hidden theme there. The hidden theme is that he is pre- 
capitalist. Capitalism was just in its early origins, and he was basically 
opposed to it. His idea was that the opulent minority are going to be 
benevolent aristocrats, Enlightenment gentlemen who sit around reading 

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philosophy and who are genuine conservatives in an old-fashioned 
sense, a sense which doesn’t exist in the U.S.: Conservatives in the 
European sense, who would be enlightened and benevolent. So they’ll 
be like benevolent tyrants. So that’s not inconsistent with what 
Roosevelt was saying, except with regard to the institutional structure. 

Madison also quickly learned that that’s not the case. A couple of 
years later he was bitterly condemning the system that he had created 
and talking about the “daring depravity of the times” as the rising class 
of business people become the “tools and tyrants” of government, 
overwhelming it with their force and benefiting from its gifts. That’s a 
pretty good description of what’s going on today. That was in the 
1790s. When he saw that the minority of the opulent are not nice 
gentlemanly aristocrats or Enlightenment philosophers who are going to 
make sure that everybody is healthy and happy, he was outraged and 
infuriated. Nevertheless, the picture he presented, extricated from the 
context in which he understood it, has been the dominant view and now 
has reached an overwhelming level. 

It’s not anything new, incidentally. The 1920s were not all that 
different. A century ago was not all that different. 

DB Isn’t it true that one of the tenets of classical conservative 
economics and philosophy is an antipathy toward concentration of 
power, toward monopoly? Yet these “Contractors,” if you will, who call 
themselves conservatives, are advocating policies that are accelerating 

What we call conservatism, what used to be called liberalism — the 
terms are confusing — but classical liberalism was strongly opposed to 
concentration of power. Not what we call liberalism. It’s what today we 
call conservatism. The terms have totally shifted in meaning, if they ever 

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had any. The views of, say, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, the 
intellectual founders of what people pay homage to but don’t understand 
or choose not to understand, those people were certainly opposed to 
concentration of power. And it’s true that the people who call 
themselves, say, libertarians today, whatever they may have in their 
minds, they are in fact advocating extreme concentration of power, in 
fact they’re advocating some of the most totalitarian systems that 
humans have ever suffered under. That’s not their intent, of course. But 
if you read Adam Smith, part of his argument for the market was that it 
would lead to perfect equality, equality of condition, not just equality of 
opportunity. Like Madison, he was a pre-capitalist and anti-capitalist 
person with roots in the Enlightenment and had a very different vision of 
the way things ought to work out. You can ask whether his argument 
was very good. We really don’t know, experimentally, because his 
argument was that under conditions of perfect liberty a market would 
lead to equality of condition and of course we don’t remotely approach 
that. But that aside, whatever you think about the intellectual character 
of his argument, it’s clear what the goal was. And yes, the classical 
liberals, the Jeffersons and the Smiths, were opposing the 
concentrations of power that they saw around them, like the feudal 
system and the Church and royalty. They thought that ought to be 
dissolved. They didn’t see other forms of concentration of power which 
only developed later. When they did see them, they didn’t like them. 
Jefferson was a good example. He was strongly opposed to the 
concentrations of power that he saw developing, and warned that the 
banking institutions and the industrial corporations which were barely 
coming into existence in his day would destroy the achievements of the 
Revolution. As I mentioned, Madison within a few years was already 
having very strongly stated second thoughts about what he had framed 
and created. 

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Here there are illusions that have to be dismantled from beginning to 
end. Take, say, David Ricardo, who actually is much more the godfather 
of contemporary neoliberal economics than Adam Smith, who was a 
pre-capitalist. Take a look at his famous law of comparative advantage, 
which we’re supposed to worship. It sort of works on his assumptions, 
but his assumptions are that capital would be pretty much immobile, 
partly because capital was land and land can’t be moved, but partly for 
other reasons. He thought capital would be relatively immobile because 
capitalists are nice human beings and they care about the people around 
them, so they’re not going to move their capital across the world 
because that would harm the people in their community and their 
country and naturally they have a lot of concern for them. Again, that’s a 
pre-capitalist thought. Within capitalist ideology, that’s a monstrosity. 
You're not supposed to care about anything except maximizing your own 
wealth. So Ricardo in the early nineteenth century was reflecting the 
residue of the pre-capitalist era, in part at least, although he’s an 
interesting mixture. 

All of the humane Enlightenment aspects of this have been 
eliminated, and rightly, because the logic of the capitalist enterprise is, 
You should not have human feelings. You should just be trying to 
maximize your own wealth and power. On the one hand, the idea that 
capitalist entrepreneurs ever thought they should be subjected to market 
discipline is ridiculous. You use state power as much as you can. This is 
again something known to economic historians, but they don’t really 
look at it in a comprehensive way. So, for example, there are good 
studies showing very persuasively that, say, in the history of the U.S. 
that its economic growth was very closely correlated with its extremely 
high level of protectionism. Its biggest growth period in the late 
nineteenth century was a period in which tariffs here were five or ten 
times as high as in most of Europe, and that was great for the U.S. 

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economy. That’s very general for every developed society. 

On the other hand, that very much understates the case, because 
there are other things you don’t look at if you’re an economist. It’s 
somebody else’s field. For example, one reason why the Industrial 
Revolution was able to be so successful in England and the U.S. was 
because of cheap cotton. What made cotton cheap? Extermination or 
elimination of the native population and bringing in slaves. That’s a 
rather serious government intervention in the market, more than a slight 
market distortion. But that doesn’t count. And the same economic 
historians will accept all sorts of myths about how developed countries 
used state intervention. They say that protectionism stopped in the U.S. 
after 1945, when the U.S. turned toward liberal internationalism. There 
was indeed pressure to lower tariffs. For one thing, it’s not quite true 
that protectionism stopped. The Reaganites virtually doubled one or 
another form of protection. 

But even if we were to agree protectionism didn’t stop, it would be 
largely beside the point, because there was another form of state 
intervention in the economy, a massive form that developed at that 
point, but that’s not the topic of economists, namely, the whole 
Pentagon system, which has overwhelmingly been a way of funneling 
public resources to advanced sectors of industry, and in fact was largely 
designed for that purpose. That they talk about in some other 

If you put all these things together, you find that the doctrines of the 
market are mainly weapons to beat people over the head with. We don’t 
use them ourselves. And when you actually look at the founders, they 
had all sorts of different ideas on the market. They were coming out of a 
truly conservative tradition, one that we don’t have, which was rooted in 
the Enlightenment and existing institutions and was concerned with 
things like sympathy and solidarity and benevolent care, a lot of it very 

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autocratic. That’s all dissolved under the impact of a sort of hypocritical 
capitalist ideology which means capitalism for you, but protection for 

DB You Ve made a bit of a name for yourself in the field of 
linguistics and language. It’s interesting, in the current political scene, 
how much the passive voice is used. There’s an article on income 
inequality in the New Yorker (October 16), for example, which is 
replete with this. Inequality happens. There’s no agency. There’s no 
active voice. People are getting poorer. No one is making them poor. It 
just happens. 

Or “people were killed," not “we’re killing them.” That’s absolutely 
standard. In fact, that’s the beautiful thing about the passive voice and 
other such devices. It makes it look as if things happen without an 
agent, and that’s very useful when the agent shouldn’t be identified 
because it’s too close to home. Virtually all discussions of aggression 
and terror take place in this framework. But you’re right, now the idea 
is, something strange is just happening to the economy, which is forcing 
inequality. Maybe automation or trade. Nobody really knows. We can’t 
do anything about it. 

But these are social decisions. They’re very easy to trace. You know 
who’s making the decisions and why. Not exactly, but certainly to a very 
substantial extent we know why these things are happening. You can 
identify the factors in them. You can see that they are by no means 
inevitable. There are people who are saying very sensible things about 
automation and the end of work. And there’s a real problem. People 
aren’t going to get jobs because maybe someday robots will do their 
work. While I agree with that if you put extremely narrow bounds on the 
discussion, in a general sense it’s completely untrue. Take a walk 

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through Boston or any other city and see if you don’t see things around 
where there’s work to be done. Then take a look at those people over 
there who are idle and say, Wouldn’t they like to do the work? The 
answer is yes to both. There is tons of work to be done, and lots of 
people who would like to do the work. It’s just that the economic system 
is such a grotesque catastrophe that it can’t even put together idle 
hands and needed work, which would be satisfying to the people and 
which would be beneficial to all of us. That’s just the mark of a failed 
system. The most dramatic mark of it. Work is not something that you 
should try to escape from, or that ordinary human beings would want to 
escape from. It’s something you want to do because it’s fulfilling, it’s 
creative. There’s plenty of it around. It’s not being done because of the 
extreme inadequacies of the socioeconomic system. 

DB In a recent Covert Action Quarterly article you wrote that “The 
terms of political discourse have been virtually deprived of meaning. " 
We've talked about “conservative,” for example. How can it be 
recovered? Is it something desirable? 

Oh, sure. Evacuation of content from the terms of discourse is a very 
useful device for dumbing people down. If it’s impossible to talk about 
anything, then you’ve got them under control. There are things that we 
ought to be able to talk about in ordinary, simple words. There’s nothing 
terribly profound here, as far as I know. If there is, nobody has 
discovered it. We ought to be able to talk about these things in simple, 
straightforward words and sentences without evasion and without going 
to some expert to try to make it look complicated for some other reason. 
I'm not recommending anti-intellectualism. There are things to learn, 
and they’re worth learning, but the topics we are now discussing are not 
quantum physics. Anybody who’s interested can find out about them 

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and understand them, as much as is necessary for rational behavior in 
structures where you can make important decisions for yourself. We 
ought to try to protect substantive discourse from the attacks on it from 
all sides. A lot of it is from the left, I should say. One aspect of this is to 
protect sensible discussion from anything that has the prefix “post-” in 

DB In that same article, you write about the “acceleration of the 
deliberate policy of driving the country toward a Third World model, 
with sectors of great privilege, growing numbers of people sinking into 
poverty or real misery, and a superfluous population confined in slums 
or expelled to the rapidly expanding prison system. " I think that’s a fair 
summary of the current situation, but aren’t the social policies that are 
producing those conditions a recipe for revolt and upheaval? 

Sometimes they have been, sometimes they haven’t been. Slave 
societies can exist for a long time. It’s not that it hasn’t been tried before 
in industrial countries. Take, say, England right around the time of 
Ricardo, in the 1820s, when a system very much like the one they’re 
trying to impose now was indeed imposed for the first time in an 
industrial country. The rulers got their way. They won political power in 
the mid-1830s and pretty soon they instituted the program they wanted, 
which was not all that different (though in a different world, of course) 
from what is being preached today. There were problems. The British 
army was spending most of its time putting down riots. Pretty soon 
organizing began, the Chartist movement began, labor organizing began. 

By the mid-nineteenth century, the classical economists who had 
been deriding the idea of helping people because to help people harms 
them, had changed their position. You read people like, say, Nassau 
Senior, one of the old hawks of political economy. He was shifting 

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towards saying, There’s something to all this stuff. Then you get to John 
Stuart Mill in 1848 or so. That’s the foundation of the modern welfare 
state. For a long time laissez-faire was a bad word. Why? Because, to 
put it in a simple formula, the rich and powerful and their intellectuals, 
the economists, were telling people, You don’t have a right to live. You 
have a right to what you gain in the marketplace, but you don’t have any 
other right to live, and any effort to help you is going to hurt you. Pretty 
soon these strange people got the idea, We might not have a right to 
live, by your lights, but you don’t have a right to rule. So we’re just going 
to take it over and kick you out. That’s a little too far. The science, as it 
was called and still is called, was a very pliable one. Ricardo had 
compared the science of economics to Newton's laws, but it turned out 
it wasn’t quite like that. When it became not usable as an instrument of 
class war, it simply changed. All of a sudden it turned out, Sure, you 
have a right to live and we have to adjust to your demands, because 
otherwise we’re not going to have a right to rule. 

Exactly what form that organizing will take now . . . it’s already taken 
some form. It happens to be taking very antisocial forms. But that is a 
reflection of social and cultural factors in the society. It doesn’t have to. 
As I mentioned before, you go to the opposite extreme in our 
hemisphere, to Haiti, where it took very constructive forms. So if it 
doesn’t take constructive forms here, that’s our fault. We have no one to 
blame but ourselves. 

DB But let’s say you’re a CEO of a major corporation. Isn’t it in your 
economic interest to keep enough change in my pocket so that I’ll buy 
your products? 

That’s an interesting question, and nobody knows the answer to it. It 
was a question that had an answer in a national economy. So if you go 

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back to the 1920s, at the time of the big automobile manufacturing 
burst, that was the question that Henry Ford raised. He drew the 
conclusion that you just drew. He said, I’d better give these guys a 
decent wage or nobody’s going to buy my cars. So he raised workers' 
salaries beyond what he was forced to by market pressures. And others 
went along. That was on the reasoning that you just outlined, and it 
made sort of sense in a national economy. 

Does it make sense in an international economy? Does it make sense 
in an international economy where you can shift production to the 
poorest and most deprived and most depressed regions where you have 
security forces keeping people under control and you don’t have to worry 
about environmental conditions and you have plenty of women pouring 
off the farms to work under impossible conditions and get burnt to death 
in factory fires and die from overwork and somebody else replaces them 
and that production is then integrated through the global system so that 
value is added where you have skilled workers and maybe pay a little 
more but you don’t have many of them? Finally it’s sold to the rich 
people in all the societies. Even the poorest Third World country has a 
very rich elite. As you take this kind of structural Third World model and 
transfer it over to the rich countries — it’s a structural model, it’s not in 
absolute terms — they have a sector of consumers that’s not trivial. Even 
if there’s plenty of superfluous people and huge numbers in jail and a lot 
of people suffering or even starving. So the question is, Can that work? 
As a technical question, nobody really knows the answer. And it doesn't 
make any difference anyway. We shouldn’t even be allowing ourselves to 
ask it. The point is that whether it could work or not, it’s a total 
monstrosity. Fascism works, too. In fact, it worked rather well from an 
economic point of view. It was quite successful. That doesn’t mean it’s 
not a monstrosity. So there is the technical question, Will it work? To 
that nobody knows the answer. But there’s also a human question of 

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whether we should even ask, and the answer to that is, Of course not. 
That’s not the CEO’s question, but it should be everybody else’s. 

DB What about the issue of the debt as a tactic of imposing a kind 
of de facto structural adjustment in the U.S.? 

There’s a lot to say about it. Basically, yes. What is being said about 
the debt is for the most part nonsense. The one thing that is correct, 
which is hidden there, is that it is a weapon for cutting back social 
spending. In fact, it very likely was created for that reason. Most of the 
debt is Reagan debt. If you look back, it’s clear at the time, and I think 
it’s becoming clearer and clearer, that their borrow-and-spend lunacy 
which did substantially increase the debt, like 80% as compared with 
that accumulated over a couple hundred years, was conceived of and is 
now being very efficiently used as a weapon to cut back those parts of 
government that help the general population, while incidentally 
increasing spending for those parts of the government that help the very 
rich, like the Pentagon system. 

k k k 

November 3, 1995 

DB To pick up where we left off the other day, maybe we should 
make a distinction between what is called “the debt” and the deficit. 

It’s just a technical difference. The deficit is a year-by-year 
accounting of the ratio between income and outgo in each year. The 
debt is what’s accumulated over time. So if the deficit stays high, the 
debt will continue to grow. If the deficit can be negative, then the debt 

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cuts down. 

DB You mentioned that a lot is left out in the discussion about the 
debt. Like what? 

I should say it’s not left out by serious professional economists who 
write about it, like Robert Eisner, who has done some of the best work. 
But it’s left out of the public debate. One point is that the debt, though 
high (and it certainly grew substantially during the Reagan years), 
nevertheless is not high by either comparative or historical standards. So 
in the past it has often been higher, and in other countries it’s higher. 
“High” means relative to the total economy, GNP or GDP, whatever you 
decide to measure. Relative to that, it’s not high. 

The second point is that a debt is just part of living. There isn’t a 
business around that isn’t in debt. You borrow for, say, capital 
investment. Every person is in debt, virtually, unless they hide their 
money under the mattress. Almost everyone who has a car or a home or 
is sending their kids to college or doing anything is in debt. There’s 
nothing wrong with that. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have a home or a 
car or a television set. You wouldn’t be able to buy things on your 
MasterCard. Your kids wouldn’t go to college. Debt is just the way the 
system functions. 

A third point is that the calculations for the federal government don’t 
make any sense because they don’t distinguish between that part of the 
debt that is for capital investment, and therefore contributes to economic 
growth and in fact further income for the government and everybody 
else, and that part of the debt which is just operating expenses. Every 
business makes that distinction. Most of the states make that 
distinction. Unless you make that distinction you’re just in a dream 

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So, to begin with, the whole thing is off the mark from the start. If 
you ask about debt, the question to ask is, What’s it for? Take a family. 
If you go to Las Vegas and spend all your money and end up in debt and 
then you use the debt for more going to Las Vegas, that’s a bad use of 
debt. If you use the same amount of borrowing for a house or a car or 
your children’s education or putting into a business or buying books, 
then it could be a fine debt, in fact very constructive. In fact, forgetting 
what it does for you as a person, keeping to the strictest, narrowest 
economic considerations, it can contribute to further income. That’s 
exactly why businesses go into debt and people go into debt. One of the 
reasons. For a business it’s about the only reason. For people there are 
lots of good reasons. 

When you turn to the government, you have to ask the same 
question: What’s the borrowing for? If the point of the borrowing is to 
put a lot of money into the pockets of Newt Gingrich’s rich constituents, 
which is in fact what it’s for, it’s like going to Las Vegas and wasting 
your money. On the other hand, if the same debt is used to improve 
what’s called human capital, that means to help children be healthier, 
better educated, more skilled, and so on — you have to put everything in 
terms of the word “capital” to be serious, although it’s not serious. It’s 
called “human capital." It’s part of our kind of insane ideology. So if it’s 
used for human capital, by any measure it’s a wise debt. For example, it 
will increase economic growth, because improving human capital is one 
of the standard ways — the World Bank will tell you this — for increasing 
economic growth. What is going to determine much of the quality of life 
a little bit down the road — say you’re worried about your children — is 
how the economy’s working. That will determine a large part of what 
their lives are going to be like. It’s not the only thing, again, but let’s 
keep to that. That will depend on things like whether there is an 
educated, healthy, skilled population capable of increasing productivity 

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and doing useful things, whether there’s a livable environment, so you’re 
not falling on the floor and dying because of pollution. Whether there’s 
infrastructure, like can you get to work without spending three hours in a 
traffic jam, are there schools, are there hospitals — all of that is what 
contributes to economic growth in the narrowest terms. 

Incidentally, relative equality also contributes to economic growth. 
Not too much is understood about these problems. Take the World 
Bank. Go out to the limits. They recognize that one of the factors, 
probably the major factor, that led to East Asian growth is relative 
equality, high infrastructure spending, investment in education, all of 
these things. It’s kind of common sense, and it’s shown by history. So if 
public spending is used for those purposes, then it contributes to the 
welfare of future generations, and then the debt is very wise, in fact it’s 
contributing to growth. 

This idea that we’re somehow putting a burden on future generations 
by the debt is another small fraud. The debt is mostly owned by 
Americans. The latest figures I've seen show about 80% owned by 
Americans, which means that paying the debt goes back into the 
pockets of American citizens. You could claim that it has a very negative 
redistributive effect. That’s probably true. I don’t know if anybody knows 
the numbers, but it stands to reason that the people who own Treasury 
securities are not cab drivers. So the debt is by and large like other 
forms of social policy, that is, a technique by which the poor pay off the 
rich. But that’s internal to the country. It's not a matter of putting a 
burden on your children, except in the sense that the whole regressive 
system puts a burden on your children because they’re going to be doing 
all sorts of things to pay off the rich. The debt is another one. But the 
Gingrich line about how you’ve got to save future generations is not only 
ridiculous, but it’s the opposite of the truth. By cutting back the kinds of 
government spending they want cut back, they’re cutting back future 

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Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


economic growth and making life worse for the next generation, for just 
the reasons I mentioned. 

These are things which certainly have to be seriously taken into 
consideration when you talk about the debt and the annual deficit. 

Another factor has to do with what the public thinks of all of this. 
Business is totally in favor of cutting it back. There’s overwhelming 
support for it, even those parts of business that will be harmed by it. 
That’s kind of interesting. Because apparently for them, the class 
interest is overwhelming the immediate profit interest. So the class 
interest of rolling back all the social programs and ensuring that the 
government works only for the rich and destroying the regulatory 
apparatus and improving the options for corporate crime, which is what 
changing the tort system and the regulatory system means, all of that is 
so overwhelmingly beneficial that they’re willing to face the costs, to 
some extent, of less government service for the rich. 

I should say only to some extent. If you look at the National 
Association of Manufacturers, they’re calling for more government 
assistance for, say, export promotion, meaning put money in their 
pockets. Newt Gingrich is not calling for cutting down the Pentagon 
system, putting money in the pockets of his rich constituents and others 
like them. On the contrary. Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation want a 
much bigger nanny state for the rich. So it’s mixed. But they're willing to 
do things even that might harm profit because of the overwhelming 
advantages of destroying a whole system which is preventing them from 
robbing everybody blind. So that’s something. 

So the business community is for it. Read Business Week. It’s 
uniform. In the political system, the leadership of both parties (not the 
scattered dissidents) is virtually 100% for it. So when Clinton goes on 
the radio to criticize the Republican budget program, he says, Of course 
we must balance the budget and eliminate the debt. That’s not even in 

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But there’s another segment of the country, namely, the population. 
There are polls. There was recently a poll asking what people thought 
the primary issue was in the country. 5% said the debt. 5% said 
homelessness. So the number of people who think it’s the prime issue is 
the same as the number of people who think it’s homelessness. That 
shows you how people rank it. When asked, Should we eliminate the 
debt, here the polls are very carefully crafted. There are two sets of 
questions, one for headline writers and NPR and a set of questions for 
people who want to know the answers. The questions for the headline 
writers are, Would you like to see the debt eliminated? Most people say, 
Yes. It’s like asking, Would you like your mortgage eliminated? That’s for 
the headlines: Americans Voted for Balanced Budget. Everybody Wants 
the Debt Eliminated. Americans Like the GOP Agenda, etc. Then comes 
the question that matters: Do you want the debt eliminated or the deficit 

reduced at the cost of . Then come a lot of “of’s”: cutback in 

health care, environmental protection, education. Then it goes way 
down. Depending on how the question is framed, it goes down to 
roughly 25% thinking it should be done at all, let alone thinking it’s a 
high priority. It’s like asking the question, Do you want your mortgage 
eliminated at the cost of giving up your house? You get a different 
answer to the question of would you like your mortgage eliminated. So 
this is part of the scam done by the public relations industry for the 
benefit of the doctrinal institutions. If you look at the bottom of the 
column, where the headline says Americans Want Balanced Budget, you 
sometimes get some of this data. So in general, the public is taking kind 
of a realistic attitude. They don’t think it’s that important, it’s about at 
the level of homelessness, and they don’t want it to happen at the cost 
that it’s going to take. 

Suppose you raised the serious question and said, Do you want the 

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debt reduced at the cost of the health and welfare and economic growth 
of the next generation? Because that’s what it means. I'm sure as soon 
as this is laid out you’ll get overwhelming opposition, especially if it’s 
understood exactly why this is the case. 

On top of all of this, there is some historical experience. Here you 
have to be pretty cautious, because very little is understood about these 
matters, as the better economists will agree. It’s very speculative. But 
there’s some evidence. For example, there have been periods of 
attempts to balance the budget. I think there have been about half a 
dozen since the 1820s. I think every single one has led very quickly to a 
very serious recession or a deep depression. It’s not hard to see why. If 
you think it through, you can see why that should be. 

On the other hand, there are also rather sophisticated studies of the 
effect of the deficit on things like consumption, investment, growth, and 
so on. It tends to have a sort of positive correlation. It tends to be the 
case that deficits contribute to growth, consumption levels, investment, 
production, trade, the usual measures. These are complicated measures, 
and you don’t want to say anything with much confidence. But it looks 
like that, and you can see why it would be the case. 

If you did a really serious analysis, which would be extremely hard, 
you’d ask the same question as about a person borrowing. Do you 
borrow so you can gamble in Las Vegas or do you borrow for your 
children’s education? If you could ask that question, which is 
sophisticated, and ask, Insofar as debt was used for productive 
government investment, like infrastructure, health, the environment, and 
so on, what was its effect? vs. debt for building the F-22, I’m pretty sure 
you’d get a pretty sharp answer. But that’s a hard question to ask, and I 
don’t think anybody’s asked it. 

In any event, if you want to rethink the question of debt, you have to 
start from the beginning and redo it from a totally different perspective. 

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Again, if we had anything remotely like a free press around, these would 
be the front-page stories, what they’d be telling people every day. You 
can’t claim that they don’t tell you. If you really read everything, you’ll 
find somebody saying this down on a back page or a piece of an op-ed. 
But what people are deluged with is a different story. Unless you carry 
out a research effort, it’s very hard to know anything about these topics. 

Interesting to me is that despite the deluge, people do not believe 
that the debt is an important issue. That’s pretty astonishing. I don’t 
know how long that can go on. 

DB One of the things you often do is challenge assumptions. So 
many things are just taken for granted, and that’s what the discourse is 
built upon. Like, We need to have a balanced budget. But citing a 
recent CBS News-New York Times poll, Americans, when asked 
whether they would want to sustain Medicare at current levels or 
balance the budget, by 3 to I said that they would rather have 
Medicare. This poll, incidentally, was described by the Speaker of the 
House as an example of “disinformation.” 

And the Times, which ran the poll well, for once (that was a lead 
front-page story) didn’t mention that this has been a consistent figure all 
the way back. So you go back to last December. There were similar 
polls. Again it turns out, although the questions weren’t framed exactly 
the same way, that when people were asked, Do you want budget 
balancing at the cost of medical assistance, health care, again it was 
about 3 to 1 opposed. So these are fairly steady figures, and it’s 
interesting that they’re holding up despite the propaganda. When people 
are asked, Would you like to have higher taxes for more medical 
research, it’s about 75% in favor. I don’t remember the last numbers, 
but quite consistently over the years the polls have indicated that people 

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are in favor of higher taxes if they’re used for things like health or 
education. Even foreign aid, believe it or not, if it goes to the poor. And 
of course, overwhelmingly the population thinks that the government has 
a responsibility to help the poor here. 

They are also opposed to welfare, and that’s a success of the 
propaganda system. But yes, these poll results were interesting and 
important, have been consistent and generalized to almost everything 
else. And it hasn’t gone totally unnoticed. For example, Brad 
Knickerbocker is a well-known Washington correspondent for the 
Christian Science Monitor. He’s dealing mostly with environmental and 
energy issues these days. He had a column in which he said, kind of 
quizzically, that it’s almost as if Congress is looking at the polls and 
deciding to do the opposite. He was talking about environment and 
energy issues, where again it’s extremely dramatic, but it generalizes 
across the board. I think it’s hard to find a time in American history 
when policy has been so radically opposed to public opinion on issue 
after issue. It’s even true on the things that are going up. 

The one big thing that’s going up is Pentagon spending. By about 6 
to 1, the population wants it either stable or reduced. So even that is 
overwhelmingly opposed by the public. What you’re getting in the 
commentary is kind of interesting. Gingrich is plainly a total cynic, but a 
pretty efficient one. His line, which is repeated by the Heritage 
Foundation and the Cato Institute, is that there’s a philosophical issue. 
People shouldn’t be compelled to pay for things they don't want, and 
that’s why we have to cut down food for starving children. A lot of 
people don’t want that, and our philosophy says they shouldn’t have to 
pay for that. But somehow our philosophy says you can increase the 
Pentagon budget over the opposition of maybe three-quarters of the 
population because that puts money in my pockets. So there the 
philosophical issue disappears. Fortunately philosophy is a pretty subtle 

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discipline, as we teach around here, and Gingrich understands that, 
along with the Heritage Foundation and the rest of the frauds who are 
putting forth their ridiculous distortion of libertarian philosophy. 

DB But there is a lot of confusion in the public. We talked about 
this the other day. There are all kinds of contradictory currents that are 
swirling around. For example, in a recent article you cited a poll in 
which about 80 % of the population believes that the economic system 
is “inherently unfair,” and the government is “run for the benefit of the 
few and the special interests, not the people. " This is up from a steady 
50%. But what is meant by “special interests”? 

That’s a good question. I think I mentioned that in the article. I said 
what they mean by “special interests" is another question. But these 
questions have been asked for a long time in polls, a little differently 
worded so you get some different numbers, but for a long time about 
half the population was saying, when asked a bunch of open 
questions — like, Who do you think the government is run for? would say 
something like that: the few, the special interests, not the people. Now 
it’s 82%, which is unprecedented. It means that 82% of the population 
don’t even think we have a political system, not a small number. 

What do they mean by special interests? Here you’ve got to start 
looking a little more closely. Chances are, judging by other polls and 
other sources of information, that if people are asked, Who are the 
special interests? they will probably say, welfare mothers, government 
bureaucrats, elitist professionals, liberals who run the media, unions. 
These things would be listed. How many would say, Fortune 500, I 
don’t know. Probably not too many. We have a fantastic propaganda 
system in this country. There’s been nothing like it in history. It’s the 
whole public relations industry and the entertainment industry. The 

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media, which everybody talks about, including me, are a small part of it 
I talk about mostly that sector of the media that goes to a small part of 
the population, the educated sector. But if you look at the whole system, 
it’s just vast. And it is dedicated to certain principles. It wants to destroy 
democracy. That’s its main goal. That means destroy every form of 
organization and association that might lead to democracy. So you have 
to demonize unions. And you have to isolate people and atomize them 
and separate them and make them hate and fear one another and create 
illusions about where power is. A major goal of this whole doctrinal 
system for fifty years has been to create the mood of what is now called 

That succeeded. People focus their anger and fear on the 
government, the one part of the whole system of power that they can 
influence, and don’t much see the real systems of power, the hand 
that’s over it, the triviality stated by John Dewey that “Politics is the 
shadow on society cast by big business.” It ought to be a truism, but few 
people understand. So there’s plenty of confusion. And it shows up point 
by point. 

Take, say, unions. About 80% of the population think working people 
don’t have enough influence on what goes on. On the other hand, a 
great many people think unions have too much influence. There’s some 
truth to that. Unions don’t really closely represent working people. So 
there’s an element of truth to that. But that’s not what they mean. The 
point is that democratic unions are the way in which working people 
could have more of a say in things. But that’s been driven out of 
people’s minds. 

Or take, say, welfare, a dramatic case. I think the last figure I saw 
was 80% of the population thought that the government has a 
responsibility to help the poor. There is also substantial opposition to 
welfare, which is the government helping the poor. The reason is the 

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Reagan fairy tales: black mothers in Cadillacs, teenaged girls having 
babies so that you’ll pay for them, all that kind of fraud. So people are 
opposed to welfare. If that’s welfare, why should I pay for it? I want to 
help the poor. 

Also, people vastly overestimate the amount of money that goes to 
welfare. The U.S. has always had quite low social expenditures by 
comparative standards, and has been reducing them very sharply since 
1970. For example, AFDC is now virtually wiped out, reduced by almost 
a half since the 1970s. This feeling that there is a huge welfare burden 
is a total joke. I’m not talking about the real welfare (to the rich), but 
that trickle of welfare that goes to people who need help, which has 
never been high, and it’s been declining very sharply. I think about a 
third, a quarter of the population think it’s the biggest item in the federal 
budget. It’s almost invisible. They feel the same thing about foreign aid, 
which is really invisible. Again, about a quarter of the population think 
it’s the biggest item in the federal budget. And they think they’re very 
heavily taxed. We’re low taxed. And the taxes are extremely regressive. 

There are two figures that are interesting, pre-tax income and actual 
income post-tax and post-benefit. So if you take into account food 
stamps, the effect of taxes, etc., and you ask, What do people have after 
all that system’s done? — in most countries, other countries like ours, it 
changes things a lot. Pre-tax inequality is not all that different in those 
countries from here. In the U.S., post-tax inequality, including all of 
these government transfers, is virtually the same as pre-tax. So the 
whole system of taxes and benefits doesn’t change much. In most other 
countries it changes a lot, which is why we have twice the level of 
poverty of our next nearest competitor, England, and much more than 
most other countries. Because the whole system doesn’t do much. It’s a 
highly regressive system. If you did a serious count, which people don’t 
do, it would be much more regressive. 

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Noam Chomsky 

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Consider, for example, that a lot of things that are taxes aren’t called 
taxes. Take, say, New York City. It has just cut down expenditures for 
mass transit. So that’s less tax money spent. On the other hand, they 
raised fares, which means more taxes. Fares are just taxes by another 
name. There’s a difference between the cuts and the taxes. The taxes 
are regressive. First of all, even if executives and poor people took 
subways to the same extent, it would be a highly regressive tax. But of 
course they don’t. Overwhelmingly, the subways are used by the poor. 
So this is a radically regressive tax, and it’s really socking it to people 
who can’t pay for it and enriching the people who don’t have to. If you 
look more closely, it’s even more dramatic. For example, the state 
administration has given what they call “subsidies,” a funny word for it, 
to public transportation, which means people’s money is being used for 
themselves. But have a look at it. They’ve cut down quite significantly 
the subsidy that goes to mass public transportation, like subways and 
buses, and increased the amount that’s going to commuter rail lines. 
Now they cut them both a little, but they cut the subways much more 
than the commuter rail lines. In fact, the costs, the last figures I saw, 
the state contribution to these was about ten to one in favor of 
commuter rail lines. Who rides commuter rail lines? Executives living out 
in Westchester County and Long Island. Who rides subways? People 
living in Queens trying to get to Brooklyn, poor kids trying to get to 
school. That’s taxes. If anybody were to take that stuff into account, you 
would see that the system is ... in fact the system already is flat by 
economists’ calculations, so to talk about a “flat tax" is a joke. That’s 
just talking about making it more regressive. It’s already more or less flat 
and has been, certainly, since the Reagan years. If you did a real 
calculation, it’s not flat, because the real costs are imposed on the poor. 

Take, say, Boston. I live in the suburbs, which are mostly fairly 
wealthy people. You go a couple of miles from here and you get to the 

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city, which is very poor people. I drove into Boston this morning. Who’s 
paying for the fact that I can drive there? Who’s keeping the roads up? 
Who’s paying for the local cops? Who’s paying for the services? Not the 
guys who live in my suburb. We just rip off the poor people. And every 
city works like that. It’s designed in such a way that the poor pay off the 
rich by various techniques. 

DB And who’s paying for the cheapest gasoline in the world? 

That’s right. 

DB The Pentagon. 

Actually, you have to be a little careful. It’s keeping the oil prices 
within a range. It doesn’t want them to get too low or too high. Because 
if the prices get too low it harms the big energy companies, which are 
mostly U.S. -based, the ones that aren’t British. And you don’t want that 
to happen, because they’re an important part of the wealthy sector. On 
the other hand, if it goes too high it harms other sectors of the economy. 
So they’re always looking for it to be in a certain band. If you look at 
policy over the years, it’s been, Not too high, not too low. 

DB There’s a group here in Boston, Share the Wealth. They’ve been 
doing a lot of research and reports on the tax code. They’re reporting 
that in the 1950s corporations paid something like 40% of all the 
taxes that IRS collected. In the 1990s it’s down to something like a 
quarter of that. That might be a piece of information that would be of 
interest to people. 

It’s not just that. Take a look at state taxes and the rest. The tax code 

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always was regressive. We never had much of a progressive tax. Take a 
look at work by real analysts like Joseph Pechman and others from years 
and years ago. They pointed out that if you calculate everything — state 
taxes, sales taxes, the whole business — you get a rather flat tax. It’s 
become much worse in the last couple of years. These are part of it. And 
it’s getting worse. The programs that are currently on the table, which 
they call flat tax programs — a meaningless term because we already 
have a flat tax — to tilt the scale even more sharply against the poor, also 
include things like a cutback on capital gains taxes. Capital gains 
happen to be about half the income for the top one percent of the 
population, then tailing off very, very sharply. That’s saying, If you’re in 
the top one percent we’re going to not even tax you for half your income, 
which is huge. All of these are complicated devices for ensuring that the 
poor — like 80 % of the population — pay off the rich. 

You read stories, like the article you gave me the other day from the 
New Yorker by John Cassidy, about how all of this is the inexorable 
workings of the capitalist system. The market in its genius is having 
these unpleasant effects. That is simply nonsense. These are social 
policies. You could make the policies different. 

DB He also says it’s a mystery how people are becoming poorer. 

If you look at that article, there are some very interesting internal 
contradictions in it. He’s very critical of all these things that are 
happening. Isn’t it sad so many people are suffering, etc. He’s good- 
hearted. But then there’s the miracle of the market, the genius of the 
market, the mysteries. On the other hand, when he talks about the 
market, he only mentions three corporations: Hughes, Grumman, and 
McDonnell Douglas. He says that’s the way the market is functioning. 
That’s the way the market is functioning? These are state-subsidized 

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corporations. You could hardly pick better examples of state industry. 
The only thing that makes them part of the market is that the profits go 
into private pockets. But the public is paying for it. That’s why those 
corporations function. 

DB / think it was you that told me about this issue of people’s 
perceptions and these contradictory currents, that most Americans 
believe that “From each according to his ability, to each according to 
his need ” (Marx) is part of the Bill of Rights. 

Part of the Constitution. That was a poll taken around 1976, the 
Bicentennial. There were many polls taken. Among other things, they 
gave people cliche-type things and said, Which do you think are in the 
Constitution? About 50% said that that’s in the Constitution because 
they take it to be so obvious. It tells you something about the failure of 
the left to organize. If half the population assumes that the most extreme 
position is not only true but must even be in the Constitution, that 
indicates a big failure on the left. 

DB We 're in the era of reform, another Orwellism, tax reform, 
welfare reform. There’s also something called “lobbying reform.” 
There’s a proposal to defund the left, to curb activities by non-profit 
groups. It’s interesting to see what groups are mentioned there as part 
of the left. 

Although one should be very careful about the word “reform.” We 
don’t call what Hitler did reform. Reform has a nice feel about it. It’s 
supposed to make things better. So we should never use the word. We 
should talk about changes. The same with “promise." Every article you 
read in the paper says, You may or may not like what the Republicans 

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are doing, but they’re fulfilling their promise to the American people. If I 
say I’m going to beat you to a pulp, and I do it, that’s not a promise. I 
didn’t promise to do it. I threatened to do it. So what they ought to say 
is, The Republicans are keeping their threat to the American people. 
Especially when we know how the American people feel about it. These 
are not reforms, any more than we’d say Stalin and Hitler instituted 
reforms. These are changes. You can like them or dislike them, but 
they’re not reforms. 

There are two things going on that fall under what you mentioned. 
One is the Istook Amendment, which is working its way through. I don't 
think it’s going to make it. It’s too extreme. But it’s in the legislative 
process now. That’s a very cynical device to try to ensure that only, say, 
military industry and big corporations can lobby. Anyone who has any 
popular interest at heart can’t lobby, can’t try to press their interests in 
the public arena. The idea is to strike another massive blow at what’s 
left of the democratic system by restricting even entry into the public 
arena in the form of lobbying, that is, pressing for your position. 
“Lobbying” means, like, writing a letter to your representative, or 
whatever you do. Restricting even that only to people who get huge 
government handouts. 

The way it’s done is trying various methods. The first one was to say, 
If you receive government funding and you’re a non-profit organization, 
you can’t use your own money for lobbying. Notice there’s no issue 
about using federal money for lobbying. That’s already illegal. So that’s 
out of the question. The question is, can you use your own money? 
Suppose 5% of your money comes from a federal grant, can you use the 
other 95% for putting forward your interest in a cleaner environment or 
more health care? The first proposal was to add that condition that you 
can’t, but of course restrict it only to nonprofit organizations. Meaning if 
you’re making profit, like these three exemplars of the capitalist system, 

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Hughes, McDonnell Douglas, and Grumman, then you can continue to 
lobby at will because you’re profit-making. That got a certain amount of 

The later proposal, which may actually go through, is to require that 
nonprofit organizations provide accounting of every penny they spend on 
every possible thing, which will wildly increase bureaucratic costs and 
drive most of them out of business. 

That’s one aspect of it, the Istook Amendment. The other aspect is 
this program of defunding the left, which is itself interesting. I think it 
was started by the Cato Institute. It’s being pushed by Congress and was 
reported in the Wall Street Journal. That’s very interesting. They quote 
the Heritage Foundation and Gingrich as to why we’ve got to start 
defunding the left, because it’s unfair for the government to be involved 
in pushing these political agendas. 

“Agenda” is an interesting word. An agenda is something that people 
have who are trying to do bad things, like help poor people or clean up 
the environment. That’s an agenda. It’s not an agenda if you’re trying to 
put more money in your pocket. So there are all these guys with 
agendas, and the government’s funding them, and that’s wrong, because 
why should we fund the left? 

Take a look at the list. The list was right there in the Wall Street 
Journal. The main organization on the left that they had to stop funding 
was Catholic Relief Services, a very left-wing organization. So why do 
they have to defund that part of the left? They explained that there are, 
in fact, priests and nuns, who, for free, are working in Head Start 
programs and helping poor people get heating for their homes. Those are 
left-wing agendas. They are helping people. And since priests and nuns 
are working on that, and sometimes they get a little bit of government 
money for it, you’ve got to defund them. That was the main 
organization. The second one was the American Association of Retired 

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Persons, the AARP. That was the second left-wing organization. They 
explained why they had to defund that part of the left. The reason was 
that AARP was running a program to try to help elderly people who are 
poor to get jobs. That’s a left-wing agenda, so they’ve got to stop that. 
Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal had another article in which they 
said that one out of six elderly people are suffering from hunger, many 
actually starving. But if you’re trying to get them jobs, that’s a left-wing 
program and we have to defund it. The next was some conservation 
organization. By their standards, anyone who has the slightest concern 
for human beings is on “the left." Rather flattering, actually, and also 
intriguing that the mislabelled “conservatives” define themselves to 
include only people who would be regarded as pathologically insane by 
rational — and certainly by authentic conservative — standards. 

DB Even the American Heart Association, which they want to 
prevent from speaking out against the dangers of smoking and 
secondhand smoke. Meanwhile Philip Morris and the heavily 
subsidized tobacco industry can lobby to its heart’s content. 

On the Istook Amendment, and on the whole issue, one of the biggest 
supporters is the alcohol industry. They’re pushing it very hard. They 
don’t want people to be able to say, There is harm in alcohol, which in 
fact there is, much greater than hard drugs, though not as bad as 
tobacco. The biggest corporate funder by far for all of these guys, 
including last November, was Philip Morris, which is also one of the 
biggest killers, so they need the protection. In fact, the agenda, if I can 
borrow their word, is so clear, obvious, and dramatic that it takes a real 
genius to miss it. 

DB Let's talk a little bit more about the media and their impact. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


This summer there was a spate of mega-mergers in the media. Disney 
took over Cap Cities/ABC. Westinghouse took over CBS. Time-Warner 
took over Turner. What is your assessment of these mergers? 

First of all, remember they’re part of something much more general. 
There’s a merger wave now which has no precedent. Even in the peak of 
the Reagan years it wasn’t like this. And there’s a move towards what 
the business press is calling “mega-corporations." Which means 
radically increasing the tyrannical, totalitarian structure of the global and 
domestic economies. These are of course tyrannies and totalitarian 
institutions. Nobody should have any doubt about that. As they get more 
powerful and integrated, they constitute in that alone a big attack on 
democracy and a big attack on markets, because as they dominate 
interactions — that means internal to these totalitarian structures — these 
huge command economies go way beyond anything people called, 
ludicrously, socialist. The media mergers are one piece of that. The big 
story is the increasing concentration of tyrannical power in private, 
unaccountable hands, which is tar more important than what’s 
happening in the media. 

As to the media, what will the effect of this be? I have always been a 
bit of a skeptic about this. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it. I 
don’t think it matters a lot if, say, in Boston there are two or three 
corporate newspapers or one corporate newspaper. There’s some 
difference, but not a huge difference. Say there are three channels on 
television which are owned by huge mega-corporations and 
conglomerates and then it turns out later there’s only one because 
they’re all owned by Murdoch. I suspect that the difference won’t be 

It will be something of a difference, because even within a system 
where power resides in extremely narrow hands, let’s say the Politburo 

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in Russia, if there are factions within the Politburo there’s a little more 
freedom than if there are no factions within it But the big point is the 
Politburo, not the amount of factional relations within it Even in 
totalitarian states, they vary in the amount of internal factionalism within 
the sector that controls power. But it’s the anti-democratic character of 
it that’s significant, not the marginal question of the amount of 
factionalism there is. Things like the mergers of the media, what they’re 
doing is cutting down the factionalism in the Politburo, which surely is 
something to worry about, but we’re wasting our time if we pay too 
much attention to it, missing the larger picture. 

Not a lot of people, including my close friends and associates, agree 
with me on this one, so I don’t mean to say it’s obvious. I suppose it’s 
not. But that’s my view. 

But let me just give you a personal experience. You remember our 
story with Warner and the first book (Counter-Revolutionary Violence: 
Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda) that Ed Herman and I wrote in 
1973. The publishing house, Warner Modular, that produced it was put 
out of business, meaning they not only destroyed our book, but they 
destroyed all the books that Warner Modular published. The decision to 
carry out this massive attack against freedom of speech was made by an 
executive of Warner Communications, who didn’t like our book. 
Incidentally, none of this elicited any reaction from alleged defenders of 
freedom of speech (Ben Bagdikian later wrote about itj. But they weren't 
Time-Warner in those days. It was Warner Communications. Big 
enough, but nowhere near what it is now and nowhere near what it is 
after the latest merger. Did that make a difference in the way they 
behave? No, not really. Marginal differences. I think the analogy would 
be something like factions within the Politburo. 

DB I've been talking to Bob Parry (independent journalist) and Jeff 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


Cohen (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) about this. They contend 
that it is making a difference, the mega-mergers, the concentration, 
that there’s more timidity — that’s hard to imagine — and skittishness in 
the newsroom because there are fewer jobs. So you have fewer options. 

That’s a different matter. I think they’re confusing two different 
things. Even without the mergers, the jobs are going down. That’s quite 
independent. Maybe the mergers have some effect on it, but I doubt if 
it’s large. The major thing is that news services are going down. That 
makes sense, because after all the purpose of this whole system is to 
destroy democracy, that is, to remove people from the public arena. So 
the more you can put into sitcoms and advertising, and the less you put 
into giving them news, the better it is. You’ve got to give them some 
news. They want to have some vague idea of what’s going on. But there 
are natural pressures within a state capitalist economy to drive out 
anything that might bring the population into the public arena, and news 
is one of those things. So of course there are going to be pressures on 
cutting down news, apart from the fact that news isn’t terribly profitable. 
News is a capital-intensive operation from the point of view of the 
media. You’re also not going to get as much advertising for it. It doesn't 
contribute to the needs of advertisers. So just as advertisers are unlikely 
to fund a documentary on saving health care, they’re not going to fund a 
news program which is in effect a documentary by bringing some 
version of the facts, maybe a distorted version, to large parts of the 
public. It's not in their interest to do so. 

Hence, independent of mergers, there’s going to be continual 
pressure, and there is, strikingly, now, on cutting back investigative 
reporting. Maybe there will still be investigative reporting that keeps 
right to the surface, like a corrupt judge. Anything insignificant. Maybe 
there will be programs on the O.J. Simpson trial. Anything to keep 

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people’s minds off serious things. That could continue. And the kind of 
reporting that contributes to fear and hate, that will continue. But just 
think of the funders and ask what their interest is in presenting an 
honest view of the world. It’s very slight. That’s true whether there are 
mergers or not. So it may be that there’s an effect, but I suspect it’s a 
marginal effect. Incidentally, it could go the other way, too. It could turn 
out that if you have one totalitarian institution running all the media, 
they might allow more deviation internally because it’s much less of a 
threat to them. I don’t say that would happen, but it could. 

Let me give you an example. I was recently in Australia, which is 
quite different from here. I was on Australian World Services, their 
version of the BBC, talking about the Timor Gap Treaty. It’s a big issue 
in Australia. Australia was coming to the World Court, being charged 
with a violation of international law. I had a half-hour interview and was 
very critical of the Australian position. That’s Australia, not the U.S. I 
couldn’t imagine it happening here. It was on Australian World Services 
being beamed into Indonesia through the Murdoch satellite, no less. 

DB Jeff Cohen and others have commented on the surge in right- 
wing media, radio talk shows specifically. Rupert Murdoch has just 
funded The Standard, a new weekly right-wing journal. There’s USA 
Today and on and on. You don’t detect that? 

Sure. There’s been a big rise in this. It’s always going on, but there’s 
an acceleration since the early 1970s. There are two things that 
happened. One is that the sixties frightened a lot of people, including the 
liberals. Terribly frightened. There was this “crisis of democracy." People 
were getting involved in the public arena. We’ve got to drive them back 
to their preferred apathy and ignorance. So that’s across the spectrum, 
liberal to conservative. That led to a big attack on universities, on 

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independent thought, on independent media, just about everything, 
across the spectrum. That’s one thing. 

The second factor was that very substantial new weapons were 
coming into the hands of private power around that time. There was also 
independently an acceleration in the globalization of the economy, 
telecommunications revolutions, deregulation of the financial system, all 
of these things were having the effect of putting very powerful weapons 
in private hands. So quite apart from the sixties, there would have been 
an effort to move from containment of New Deal-style liberalism, to 
rollback of it. That has happened quite dramatically. 

The last liberal president in the U.S. was Richard Nixon. Ever since 
then it’s been, starting with Carter, an attack on social programs, an 
increase in the regressive forms of state power like the Pentagon system. 
These things were simultaneous. There had been talk shows. They had 
been pretty awful, but there was some kind of mixture. They shifted very 
sharply towards the right around this point, as did everything else. So 
the flooding of college campuses with glossy, super-ultra-right-wing 
newspapers in everybody’s mailbox, that started around then. The Olin 
professorships of free enterprise, and contributions to academic freedom 
of that kind, that also increased, as did the very narrowly focused right- 
wing foundations which are trying to destroy the educational system. 
They want to destroy public education. You may have noticed yesterday 
in Boston, Governor Weld announced what amounts to the destruction 
of the public education system. It sneaked into a legislative bill. All of 
this stuff has been going on. It’s picking up, and that’s what they were 
referring to. It’s real enough, but I think it’s not due to mega-mergers. 

DB We’re not talking about a monolith here. You mentioned that 
Wall Street Journal article, Hunger Surges Among the Elderly. They had 
a piece a couple of days ago on the positive impact of government 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


welfare programs in South Carolina. The New York Times is writing 
about class conflict. So there are some contradictory streams here as 

There are all sorts of contradictions. Take the cutback of the 
regulatory apparatus. The Times also had a big story a couple of weeks 
ago on the fact that the big investment firms are very unhappy about it. 
They need the Securities and Exchange Commission. A market, to the 
extent that it exists, is a very expensive affair. Markets cost a lot of 
money to set up and a lot of money to police. If you don't set them up 
and you don’t police them there’s not going to be any market. There’s 
just going to be fraud and corruption and disaster and rapid collapses 
that are going to wipe things out. So the big guys, the big investment 
firms and financial institutions and banks, rely on the SEC as 
government intervention to protect the functioning of markets to the 
extent that they exist, which is a limited but not zero extent. And the 
attack on these commissions is something they’re not at all happy 
about. The same is true of the Commerce Department. The Commerce 
Department is now under attack by the Republican freshmen. But big 
business wants it. It just puts money into their pockets. The Commerce 
Department is one of the welfare systems for the rich, and they don’t 
want that to disappear. 

The same is true on environmental issues. If you notice, this whole 
Republican freshman attack was going right after environmental issues. 
But they’re being beaten back on that one, to a large extent because big 
corporations who can think five years ahead realize that they would like 
to have a world five years from now in which they can make profits, not 
only today. The same with the FDA. The pharmaceutical corporations 
came out against dismantling the Food and Drug Administration. They’d 
maybe like it cut back, but they don't want to dismantle it. They are 

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smart enough to figure out that if there is no regulation and independent 
assessment, five years from now there will be some kind of thalidomide 
catastrophe or something like that, and they’ll lose their international 
markets. And so it goes. There has always been a symbiotic relationship 
between big private capital and state power. They want to maintain it. 

If you look back over American business history, there is one rather 
systematic split. Tom Ferguson has done some very interesting work on 
that, as have others. There’s been a consistent, pretty general distinction 
between capital-intensive, high-technology, internationally-oriented 
financial and industrial sectors on the one hand, which are the real big 
guys, and the labor-intensive, more domestically-oriented, less advanced 
technological parts of the system on the other. That’s what’s called 
“small business" here, but it’s not small by any means. That difference 
shows up in all sorts of things. So you find it in the lobbying system, the 
Business Council and more recently the Business Roundtable. That 
represents the big guys. They want a strong government. A lot of them in 
various forms even support New Deal measures. They instituted some of 
the New Deal measures. They were in favor of what they sometimes call 
welfare capitalism. They don’t mean by that money that goes into their 
pockets. What they mean is keeping a decent life for the working class, 
benefits for your workers. Which doesn’t cost them a lot. They are 
capital-intensive, not labor-intensive. They understand the point of a 
smoothly functioning society. 

On the other hand, take the Chambers of Commerce, the National 
Association of Manufacturers, who typically represented the other sector. 
They have quite different policies on many issues. One of the things 
that’s happening in Washington right now is an unusual shift of power 
toward the so-called small business side. The big business people are 
perfectly happy about it, as long as it keeps enriching them, which it’s 
doing. But they’re looking at it with a wary eye. The Gingrich 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

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Republicans talk a kind of populist line. They even talk an anti-corporate 
line. Of course, they do nothing about it. If they ever start doing 
something about it, it will be interesting to watch the hammer fall. I 
don’t think they’re going to last very long. As long as they talk their 
populist line but pour money into the pockets of the rich, they can talk 
their line if they like. But when a conflict really develops, I think they 
will be quietly sent on their way. 

DB You Ve always commented that you weren’t too concerned if 
these guys — like let’s take these Republican shock troops, as they’re 
called, were the standard type of politician, skimming off the top, 
corrupt, etc. — that you would be concerned if they were different. Do 
you think they are different? 

I think they represent something different which is interesting and 
important. They represent a kind of proto-fascism. And that’s dangerous. 
First of all, there’s the religious fanaticism, which is a very dangerous 
thing. There’s a cultural tone about them, which shows up all over the 
place, which has a very fascist character to it. All the things we’ve 
discussed reflect this. And there’s a real sadism. They really want to go 
for the jugular. Anybody who doesn’t meet their standards, which 
means, Enrich myself tomorrow, anybody who doesn’t meet that 
condition, they just want to kill, not just oppose, but destroy. They are 
quite willing — cynics like Gingrich are extreme, but others are willing — 
to try to engender fear and hatred against immigrants and poor people. 
They are very happy to do that. Their attitudes are extremely vicious. 

You can see it all over. Take the state of Alabama that has not only 
restored chain gangs, but chain gangs where they truck rocks in for 
people to smash up. That’s real sadism. Also our governor, William 
Weld, who’s supposed to be a moderate. He’s one of the moderate 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 


Republicans, a nice guy type. Just last week every day in the 
newspapers there was another headline about forcing people out of 
homeless shelters if he didn’t like the way they lived. Like some mother 
took off a day to take care of a mentally retarded child. Okay, out of the 
homeless shelter. He doesn’t like that. He thinks she should work, not 
take care of her child. Some disabled veteran didn’t want to move into a 
well-known drug den. Okay, out on the street. That’s one day. Next day 
comes state welfare, social services, have to report to the INS if they 
think somebody may be an illegal immigrant. Then they get deported. 
Which means their child gets deported. Their child could well be an 
American citizen. So American citizens have to be deported, according 
to the governor, if he doesn’t like the fact of the way their parents are 

The real point of it, and his purpose, is to ensure that these children 
will starve to death because it means their parents won’t be able to go to 
get services. They won’t be able to go to school. So really kick the kids 
in the face. That’s the idea. It goes on like this, day after day. It was a 
series of these through the week, like written by Jonathan Swift. One 
day was a headline about how he was giving I forget how much money, 
but a couple of million dollars, to the guys who were running racetracks. 
They were also cutting down a tiny little pittance that went to try to deal 
with compulsive gambling. Compulsive gambling is an addiction, as 
harmful as other addictions. But you want to increase that addiction, 
and there’s a good reason for that. Gambling is a tax on the poor. His 
friends don’t go to the racetracks. It’s poor people who go to the 
racetracks, just like poor people buy lottery tickets. His friends don’t. 
That’s just another one of those massively regressive taxes on the poor. 
So let’s increase that and furthermore put more state funds into the 
hands of the racetrack owners who are doing it. 

This is day after day. Pure sadism. Very self-conscious. He’s not a 

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fool. And he’s trying to build public support for it by building up fear and 
hatred. The idea is, There’s these teenage kids (who are black, by 
implication, although you don't say that in a liberal state) who are just 
ripping us off by having lots and lots of babies. We don’t want to let 
them do that. So let’s hate them and let’s kick them in the face while 
I'm kicking you in the face. That’s real fascism. And that’s the liberal 
side. It’s not the Gingrich shock troops. That’s the liberal, moderate, 
educated side. 

This runs across the spectrum. Take a look at it. This combination of 
extreme religious fanaticism, hysteria, intolerance, viciousness, sadism, 
fear, hatred, but with people who understand it very well, like Newt 
Gingrich, William Weld, and others, is a technique to ensure the 
increase of totalitarian power in the hands primarily of the private 
tyrannies, which they work for, but also in the hands of an increasingly 
powerful state which is more and more dedicated to security systems 
and devices for transferring funds towards the wealthy. That’s a 
prescription for fascism. That’s dangerous. 

DB You said the economic system is a "grotesque catastrophe.” 
What kind of system would you propose? 

That’s the topic for another discussion. I would propose a system 
which is democratic. It’s long been understood (this has nothing to do 
with the left per se; it’s right through the American working-class 
movement, and independent social thinkers) that you don’t have 
democracy unless people are in control of the major decisions. And the 
major decisions, as has also long been understood, are fundamentally 
investment decisions: What do you do with the money? What happens 
in the country? What’s produced? How is it produced? What are working 
conditions like? Where does it go? How is it distributed? Where is it 

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sold? That whole range of decisions, that’s not everything in the world, 
but unless that range of decisions is under democratic control, you have 
one or another form of tyranny. That is as old as the hills and as 
American as apple pie. You don’t have to go to Marxism or anything 
else. It’s straight out of mainstream American tradition. 

The reason is simple common sense. So that’s got to be the core of 
it. That means total dismantling of all the totalitarian systems. The 
corporations are just as totalitarian as Bolshevism and fascism. They 
come out of the same intellectual roots, in the early twentieth century. 
So just like other forms of totalitarianism have to go, private tyrannies 
have to go. And they have to be put under public control. 

Then you look at the modalities of public control. Should it be 
workers' councils or community organizations or some integration of 
them? What kind of federal structure should there be? At this point 
you’re beginning to think about how a free and democratic society might 
look and operate. That’s worth a lot of thought. But we’re a long way 
from that. The first thing you’ve got to do in any kind of change is to 
recognize the forms of oppression that exist. If slaves don’t recognize 
that slavery is oppression, it doesn’t make much sense to ask them why 
they don’t live in a free society. They think they do. This is not a joke. 

Take women. Overwhelmingly, and for a long time, they may have 
sensed oppression, but they didn’t see it as oppression. They saw it as 
life. The fact that you don’t see it as oppression doesn’t mean that you 
don’t know it at some level. At some level you know it. The way in 
which you know it can take very harmful forms for yourself and everyone 
else. That’s true of every system of oppression. But unless you sense it, 
identify it, understand it, understand furthermore that it’s not, as in that 
New Yorker article, the genius of the market and a mystery, but 
completely understandable and not a genius of anything, and easily put 
under popular control — unless all those things are understood, you 

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cannot proceed to the next step, which is the one you raised: How can 
we change the system? 

I think you can figure out how to change the system by reading the 
independent working class press 150 years ago that we talked about 
earlier. These were ordinary working people, artisans, “factory girls" from 
New England farms, and so on. They knew how to change the system. 
You know, too. They were strongly opposed to what they called “the 
New Spirit of the Age: Gain wealth, forgetting all but Self.” They wanted 
to retain the high culture they already had, the solidarity, the sympathy, 
the control. They didn’t want to be slaves. They thought that the Civil 
War was fought to end slavery, not to institute it. All of these things are 
perfectly common perceptions, perfectly correct. You can turn them into 
ways in which a much more free society can function. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 


Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 

January 6, 1996 

DB The French government is trying to impose its own version of 
class warfare on French workers. The response has been rather 
dramatic. There have been wide-scale demonstrations , effectively 
shutting down the country. What do you think of that? 

It’s really not anything particularly special that the French 
government is doing. It’s applying a version of neoliberal structural 
adjustment, which is rammed down the throats of the Third World. They 
have no choice. It’s increasingly being applied in the industrial societies 
as well, the U.S. and Britain considerably in the lead, but in a globalized 
economy others are being dragged along in one way or another. The 
difference in France was primarily the response, not the programs. There 
remains a tradition of working-class solidarity and activism that 
surprised a lot of people, and that’s what happened. I don’t think it will 
basically have an effect. The manifestation of it was interesting and 
important and could be one of the many strands initiating other 
comparable reactions, which could have a mutually reinforcing character 
sooner or later. 

DB Were you surprised? 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


Yes. It hasn’t happened in other places where people have been hit 
much harder. 

DB Strikingly, it didn’t happen in Decatur, Illinois, where just about 
at the same time this thing was going on in France the eighteen-month 
UAW strike at Caterpillar just collapsed. 

It did collapse, you’re right. But it was interesting to see how. Most of 
the work force voted against capitulating. The contract was a complete 
capitulation to Caterpillar. That’s recognized on all sides. It was a “rout,” 
as the business press called it. The workers at the plant voted 80% 
against it. The union leadership decided to accept it, and may have been 
right. Their point is that the forces were so unequal that the chances of 
their holding out were very slim. But it’s not comparable to France. 
There it was a matter of working-class solidarity. But working-class 
solidarity is actually illegal in the U.S. We don’t have things like general 
strikes or even secondary boycotts. They’re excluded by law. The laws 
are designed to undermine the possibility of acting on general class 
interests or other general interests, which is quite unusual among 
industrial societies. Maybe unique, at least among the more democratic 

In France this was a national issue. H a rd I y anyone here knew about 
the Decatur situation. There was barely any coverage of anything that 
had been happening, except in the business press now and then or, let’s 
say, the Chicago Tribune, the kind of papers that are business-oriented 
and nearby. But very few people knew anything about it. As you recall, 
when Decatur workers came to the Boston area to try to raise some 
support, they could barely get any people out to a meeting, which is very 
unusual. Almost anything gets a big crowd under comparable 
circumstances. So they were left alone, hanging on a limb. 

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Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


Caterpillar was in an extremely strong position. Like corporate 
America generally, it has made huge profits in recent years. It had, I 
think, about 40% or 50% profit growth in the last year. And they’ve 
used their profits for a very sensible business strategy. These are people 
who are fighting a bitter class war. They’ve used them to create excess 
capacity overseas so that, as they explain to the business press, they 
could undermine any workers’ actions by simply using their other 
facilities, many overseas, to ensure that they maintain their market. 
Also, in the U.S., again unusual, maybe unique among industrial 
societies, it’s permitted to employ permanent replacement workers, 
which is worse than scabs, to destroy strikes. The U.S. has been cited 
for that by the International Labor Organization, but it continues. And a 
huge number of part-time workers, and so on. So Caterpillar was in a 
very strong position to carry out a very efficient class war in a successful 
effort to undermine some of the last remnants of American unionism. 

There was very little general solidarity, in part because there was 
simply no awareness. The thing was kept under wraps. Also because the 
options for common action have been very much undercut, in part 
simply by legal measures and in part by a huge onslaught of propaganda 
to just simply drive such ideas out of people’s minds and leave them 
alone, facing awesome power by themselves. 

DB One other thing about the Caterpillar strike in Decatur: There 
have been almost Stalinist-like restrictions on the returning workers. 

Not “almost.” The Wall Street Journal had an article which was 
headlined by saying that workers have gag rules imposed. The company 
will allow some workers to return, which is already pretty outlandish, 
but they are under a gag rule which requires that they say nothing about 
the strike. They say nothing critical of management. They don’t wear T- 

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Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


shirts that have something that the company considers harmful to its 
reputation. It’s straight Stalinist. It’s not “Stalinist-like." 

DB Let's move on that note of Stalin to Russia. Recent elections 
there indicate a revival of support for the Communist Party. Is that 
entirely unexpected? 

I don’t quite interpret it that way. It’s not just in Russia. It’s all over 
Eastern Europe. The standard version, which is actually given in a New 
York Times report that I’m almost quoting, is that nostalgia for the past 
is increasing as it recedes further into the distance. I don’t think there’s 
any indication of nostalgia for the Stalinist dungeon. It’s not that the 
past is receding. It’s that the present is approaching, and the present 
happens to be Brazil and Mexico. However horrifying the Soviet 
socioeconomic system might have been, the way people live in the 
comparable countries that we run are, for the most part, much worse. 
So for the large majority of the population of places like, say, Brazil, 
Guatemala, or Mexico, the conditions of Eastern Europe would have 
seemed very impressive indeed. Now what the people of Eastern Europe 
are seeing is that they are being returned to Third World conditions, the 
conditions of countries that we’ve been running for a long, long time. 
And as that approaches, they don’t like it. Just as if the population in 
our own domains had a choice, they wouldn’t like it, either. And that’s 
what I think one is seeing, not a kind of revival of love for the dungeon 
that has disappeared. 

DB Moving on to Haiti , there were elections there also very recently. 
Generally, U.S. commentary has been very critical of Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide and the Lavalas movement. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


It’s actually mixed. First of all, it’s important to recognize that certain 
critical facts are still kept very, very quiet. One is that there was no 
embargo, to speak of. To mention one striking example, public but still 
largely suppressed, the Bush and Clinton administrations authorized 
Texaco to ship oil illegally to the junta and its rich supporters. The 
second is that Aristide was allowed to return under very strict conditions, 
an extreme form of structural adjustment, exactly what the public voted 
against in the 1990 election that so scandalized U.S. power. He hasn’t 
entirely been living up to them. Haiti is in a way like France. It’s one of 
the few countries where there has been popular resistance to the 
imposition of these neoliberal structural adjustment programs. Aristide 
has roots among the people, and he has to some extent reflected that 
and has not gone along as willingly as have the usual Third World elites 
with the orders from Washington, the World Bank, and the IMF. Haiti 
has been punished for that. The very limited funds that have been 
offered have indeed been withheld because of their refusal to undergo a 
program which would essentially dismantle the entire governmental 
system and turn it over to private power to an unprecedented extent. 
They’ve been dragging their feet on that. There’s been a lot of popular 
resistance. As a result, Aristide is criticized. 

But the democratic structures which swept him into power, the 
grassroots movements, have not been demolished by years of terror. And 
although he has — lacking any alternative, in my opinion — gone along 
pretty much with the external power that allowed him to return, he 
hasn’t done it with the proper willingness and enthusiasm and devotion 
to the masters, which does arouse criticism. 

DB Do you know anything about the new president, Rene Preval? 

He’s been close to Aristide and does reflect pretty much the same 

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views. I think he has essentially the same base of support. 

DB Haiti was an example of what is called “humanitarian 
intervention.” Somalia is another. Bosnia is also cited. Are there 
instances where you would support such actions? 

First of all, I suppose just about every military action in history has 
been described as humanitarian intervention. They may not have used 
that term, but some similar one. It’s always with very noble purposes. 
And if you try to find genuine examples in history of authentic 
humanitarian intervention, you’re going to find pretty slim pickings. On 
the other hand, I don’t think you can give a general principle about 
when the use of military force is legitimate. It depends on what the 
alternatives are. So there are circumstances in which maybe that’s the 
least bad of the available alternatives. You just have to look at things on 
a case-by-case basis. There are some general principles that one can 
adhere to, but they don’t lead to specific conclusions for every 
conceivable case. 

DB / know on Bosnia you received many requests for support of 
intervention to stop what people called “genocide.” Was it genocide? 

“Genocide” is a term that I myself don’t use even in cases where it 
might well be appropriate. 

DB Why not? 

I just think the term is way overused. Hitler carried out genocide. 
That’s true. It was in the case of the Nazis a determined and explicit 
effort to essentially wipe out populations that they wanted to disappear 

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from the face of the earth. That’s genocide. The Jews and the Gypsies 
were the primary victims. There were other cases where there has been 
mass killing. The highest per capita death rate in the world since the 
1970s has been East Timor. In the late 1970s it was by far in the lead. 
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t call it genocide. I don’t think it was a planned 
effort to wipe out the entire population, though it may well have killed 
off a quarter or so of the population. In the case of Bosnia — where the 
proportions killed are far less — it was horrifying, but it was certainly far 
less than that, whatever judgment one makes, even the more extreme 
judgments. I just am reluctant to use the term. I don’t think it’s an 
appropriate one. So I don’t use it myself. But if people want to use it, 
fine. It’s like most of the other terms of political discourse. It has 
whatever meaning you decide to give it. So the question is basically 
unanswerable. It depends what your criteria are for calling something 

On the calls for military intervention, they were of an interesting 
character. They were very vague. I've never seen, during all these years 
in which there’s been a lot of laments about the collapse of Western 
civilization and so on, I just didn’t see any substantive proposals as to 
what could be done. Do something, was what people said. Send troops. 
But what are they going to do? The substantive proposals were 
extremely slim. What has been done I think is quite ugly. What has been 
done, and I think this has been in the works for a long time, is 
essentially leading to an effective partition of the region, the former 
Yugoslavia. Slovenia is out of it, but except for that, the rest of it into a 
Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia, with Bosnia pretty much partitioned. 
They may call it a state, but part of it will be part of Croatia and part of 
it will be part of Serbia. 

Greater Croatia is already pretty much a U.S. client. The U.S. has 
been helping it arm and has been supporting it. And I think that the 

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U.S. anticipates the same will be true of Greater Serbia, so if it works 
out that way it will place the U.S. in effective control of the former 
Yugoslavia, which is pretty much a return to the previous status quo. 
That region has considerable significance. From the U.S. perspective it’s 
always been regarded as part of the periphery of the Middle East, the 
whole system of protection and control over energy resources. 

It’s also a kind of a base for entry into the restored Third World of 
Eastern Europe, where there are common interests among the major 
industrial powers, but there are also conflicts. So the U.S. has 
somewhat different ideas about how to exploit Eastern Europe from 
those of, say, France and Germany. The base in the Balkans places the 
U.S. in a position to implement its own power interests and economic 
interests. So a U.S. takeover of that region, or, more accurately, a re- 
takeover of the region, is not an unexpected goal of foreign policy. What 
the U.S. has done is sort of stand on the sidelines as long as it was 
tough going there. When it looked as if a military balance had been 
established, primarily by U.S. aid to Croatia and indirect aid to the 
Bosnian Muslims — which in fact the U.S. actually let Iran do a lot of— 
now that that balance was more or less set and it looked as though it 
would be possible simply to insert U.S. forces to separate warring 
armies without too much threat or danger, and of course commitment to 
use massive force if anything goes wrong, then the U.S. sent in troops. 

Now suppose I had been in Congress, let’s say, and had been asked 
to choose between exactly two alternatives. One, let them keep 
massacring one another. Two, put in U.S. troops to separate warring 
armies, to partition the country into two U.S. dependencies with a 
possibility that something may go badly wrong, as in Somalia, and there 
might be a huge slaughter. If those are the two choices, I probably 
would have voted for sending the troops. 

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DB What about Germany's interests in and links to Croatia? Do you 
think that’s significant? 

It’s very significant. Germany took the initiative in the early stages, in 
a very premature recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and Bosnia- 
Herzegovina. Slovenia was sort of reasonable, I suppose. But in the case 
of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the recognition was first a German 
initiative, and the European Union went along very quickly, without any 
concern for a rather serious question, namely, the rights of substantial 
Serbian minorities. That’s not to justify the way they reacted, but there 
were legitimate concerns and they were not taken into account. That 
was just a prescription for disaster. 

DB Misha Glenny and others have cited the German recognition as 
igniting Serb fears of a resurgence of German power in the Balkans. 
They have memories there. 

They have plenty of memories. Everybody has memories. Again, none 
of this is justification for what happened. But the recognition of the 
independence of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina without any concern 
for this obviously quite serious problem was throwing a match into a can 
of gasoline. 

DB It seems to me that Clinton was very anxious to supplant U.N. 
forces with NATO. Do you agree? 

Only at the right moment. As long as it was difficult, they wanted 
U.N. forces in there. As long as there was fighting and danger and 
difficulties in getting humanitarian supplies, the U.S. wanted to be out of 
it. NATO means the U.S. It’s a cover for the U.S. The U.S. only wants to 

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move in when the game is over and it can pick up the pieces. So the 
hard work was done by the Europeans. You can ask how well they did 
it. Pretty badly, I think. But nevertheless, it was their task. The U.S. was 
on the sidelines. It was willing to bomb but nothing else. By the time it 
seemed as if the conflict had a possible resolution by insertion of force, 
massive force, that would not be under any threat, by the time that 
looked possible, the Clinton administration wanted the U.N. out and 
wanted to take over. It’s not very different from Somalia. In the case of 
Somalia, as long as the conflict was raging and there was a terrible 
famine and people were dying and there were a lot of murders, the U.S. 
just simply stayed out, didn’t want anything to do with it. When the 
fighting was declining and it looked like there was going to be a good 
harvest and there was a fair chance that the famine was ending, the Red 
Cross and other efficient agencies were getting food through — at that 
point the U.S. moved in with a massive show of force and a huge PR 
operation, expecting to get a lot of at least favorable publicity out of it. 
Indeed, that would have happened if it hadn’t been for U.S. military 
doctrine, which is unusual. It requires that U.S. forces never be put 
under any threat at all. If someone looks at them the wrong way, we call 
out the helicopter gun-ships. That’s why the U.S. is pretty much 
disqualified from peacekeeping operations that involve civilians. And 
they’ve made it very clear, incidentally, in Bosnia, that they’re going to 
do the same thing. Massive force if anybody gets in their way, unlike 
these wishy-washy Europeans, who don’t just kill anybody in sight. In 
Somalia it led to a disaster. According to U.S. sources, somewhere 
between 7500 and 10,000 Somali civilians were killed before the U.S. 
forces were withdrawn. And that was not a very conflictive situation. 

DB You 're saying that the U.S. was responsible directly for those 

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A good bit of it. Just violent overreaction to minor provocations, the 
kind of thing that other countries don’t respond to. For example, at the 
same time that U.S. forces went into Bosnia, with huge coverage and 
front-page stories, if you really looked into the back pages and the small 
items, you might discover that at that very same time, Norwegian 
peacekeeping forces in Southern Lebanon were attacked by Israeli tanks 
and several were severely wounded and hospitalized. We don’t have the 
rest of the story because it wasn’t reported. If anything like that 
happened to U.S. forces, even anything far less than that, there would 
have been a massive military response. 

DB Can’t also the U.S. point to these kinds of interventions as a 
justification for continued massive military spending? 

Sure. It’s used for that, in fact. The Somali intervention was pretty 
openly described that way. Colin Powell and others put it in pretty much 
those terms, pointing out that the Pentagon budget was in trouble and 
they needed some good public relations. 

DB Let’s turn now to focus on the Middle East. It is received wisdom 
that the September 1995 Oslo accord has pretty much settled the 
Israeli-Palestinian question. Typical headlines were, “Israel Agrees to 
Quit West Bank.” “At the White House, Symbols of a Day of Awe.” 
“The Undeniable Reality: The Palestinians are on Their Way to an 
Independent State; the Jews are Bidding Farewell to Portions of the 
Holy Land to which They Have Historically Felt Most Linked, ” and on 
and on. You take exception to those views. 

Not entirely. I think some of it is correct. It is a day of awe. It was a 

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tremendous victory for the rule of force in international affairs, a very 
impressive one, and a extraordinary doctrinal victory as well. Maybe that 
should inspire awe. It’s possible that it may resolve the conflict pretty 
much the way that the great powers have been doing in Bosnia may 
resolve that conflict by partitioning it. There are ways to resolve things. 
The problem of the Native Americans was resolved. They’re not around 
any more. So the problem was resolved. The Israel-Palestine problem 
may be resolved in the same fashion. Certainly the Oslo agreements are 
a long step towards it. 

On the other hand, the factual descriptions are just farcical. Israel 
didn’t quit the West Bank. It indicated no intention of quitting the West 
Bank. In fact, it made very clear its intention, and its intention means 
Washington’s intention, because otherwise it doesn’t happen. So 
Washington made clear with its Israeli client that it would not quit the 
West Bank. On and on the rest of the story is just the most outlandish 
fabrication. Just simply look at the bare facts. This agreement didn't 
deal with the Gaza Strip, where Israel retains the roughly 30% it 
wanted. And in fact in its recent budget it has just assigned that part of 
the Gaza Strip to Israel itself. It places it under the budget for the Negev. 
That cuts off the areas assigned to Palestinian administration from any 
access to the Arab world. 

In the West Bank, which was covered by the Oslo agreement of 
September 28, they divided it into four areas. One area is total Israeli 
control. That’s 70%. Another area is given to Palestinian administration, 
the municipal areas of a half-dozen cities. That’s 2%. The remainder, 
roughly 28%, consists of about a hundred isolated sectors within the 
Israeli 70% which are given local autonomy under overall Israeli control. 
There’s a fourth region, that’s Jerusalem, which Israel has already 
annexed. Jerusalem means Greater Jerusalem, a big, expanding area, a 
substantial part of the West Bank. It’s kind of intriguing that if you look 

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at the maps, not only in Israel but in the New York Times, they simply 
assign that area to Israel. So the New York Times map colors it the same 
color as Israel. The West Bank is everything but that. So that region, 
though theoretically up for negotiation, has already been assigned to 
Israel by itself and the U.S. government and the New York Times. So 
those are the four areas. To talk about Israel withdrawing from the West 
Bank under those conditions is ridiculous. It becomes even more absurd 
when you look at the further conditions. 

Israel retains veto power over any legislation passed by Palestinians 
anywhere in any of the areas where they have a degree of local 
autonomy. The Palestinian authorities are required, and agreed, to 
accept the legality of Israeli rights in the West Bank and Israeli 
sovereignty over what Israel will determine to be state lands or absentee 
lands. Those are pretty loose categories, but they will amount to 
essentially what Israel feels like keeping. That, incidentally, totally 
undermines U.N. 242, completely dismantles it, the basic diplomatic 
framework, which called for withdrawal from the territories. And it 
completely rescinds the decisions of the Security Council and of just 
about every government in the world that the settlements are illegal and 
that Israel has no sovereign rights in the territories. That’s all rescinded. 
The Palestinian Authority agrees to accept that Israel does have 
sovereign rights there and what it does is legal and legitimate. 

There was great talk about the amazing transformation in Yitzhak 
Rabin. He was willing to concede. Israel was willing to make a “historic 
compromise." Simply compare what they took in Oslo II with what they 
had been calling for at the peak period of refusal to have any dealings 
whatsoever with the Palestinians or to recognize any of their rights. So 
in 1988, for example, when the U.S. and Israel were refusing any 
dealings with the Palestinians, any recognition of Palestinian rights, an 
extreme point of rejectionism, at that point Yitzhak Rabin was Defense 

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Minister, and he called for keeping 40% of the West Bank and Gaza. 
They didn’t want the rest. That’s the traditional position. Now they’ve 
got between 70% and 98%, depending on how you estimate it. About 
twice as much as what they had asked for at their most extreme 

I don’t think they’re going to keep that much. It would be crazy. In 
subsequent imposed agreements, I presume that they’ll reduce their own 
integration of the territories to what they’ve always wanted. 

Meanwhile, it’s not just words. It’s also actions on the ground. So the 
new budget, which was just passed by the Knesset, the Parliament, in 
late November, after Oslo II and after the Rabin assassination, calls for 
tens of millions of dollars for new settlements in the West Bank, the 
Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, funded as usual by the American 
taxpayer in one or another fashion. It offers even inducements for new 
settlers. This includes, just to show how extreme it is: There are new 
settlers who go to the Gaza Strip, which is a very arid area where people 
don’t have drinking water. They will be given special subsidies for fish 
ponds in the new budget. That’s typical. Meanwhile, Israel’s military 
budget is going up, but mostly for the construction of what they call 
“bypass roads," a big network of infrastructure roads that will enable 
Jewish settlers on the West Bank to travel freely without even seeing 
scattered Arab villages which are isolated from one another and will 
disappear somehow. It also cantonizes the region, breaks it into separate 
areas. So whatever local autonomy is granted won’t have any larger 

DB In a Z magazine article you make an analogy with the Oslo 
accords and New York State ceding authority over certain areas. What 
was that? 

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It’s kind of as if the New York State authorities decided to cede 
control of the South Bronx and the slums of Buffalo to local authorities, 
meanwhile taking the wealthy urban areas, the useful land, the 
resources, the commercial and financial centers, in fact, anything they 
wanted. They’d be delighted to do that if they could. 

DB How do the Oslo accords treat the question of Palestinian 
refugees, right of return, and/or compensation? 

That’s simply gone. There’s nothing there for the refugees. Yitzhak 
Rabin and his colleagues have made it very clear and explicit that they 
are not going to get anything. They’re out of the game. The U.S. backs 
that. Remember, everything that happens there happens because the 
U.S. backs it. Otherwise it does not happen. So this is U.S. policy, much 
more extreme under Clinton than his predecessors, incidentally. The 
idea is to somehow just scatter them like human waste somewhere. 
That is in direct violation of long-standing international agreements going 
right back to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948, 
one provision of which called for the right of return of people to 
territories from which they had been expelled. The explicit intention was 
to affirm the Palestinians’ right. This was made clear and explicit the 
next day, when the U.N. unanimously, including the U.S., endorsed the 
right of Palestinians specifically to return or compensation under this 
provision, Article 13 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. That’s all 
gone. It’s never been more than rhetoric, but now even the rhetoric’s 

DB Are you saying that Washington runs everything and there’s no 
such thing as Israeli sovereignty? 

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Noam Chomsky 

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Oh, no. It’s not that there’s no such thing as Israeli sovereignty. The 
state of Nevada has some sovereignty, too. But Washington’s influence 
is overwhelming. Remember, Israel gets a degree of foreign support that 
is just off the scale. There’s no country that even comes close. You can’t 
call it the fifty-first state of the Union, because no state gets anywhere 
near that amount of per capita aid from the federal government. There’s 
no country in the world that compares. It’s just not on the spectrum. 
U.S. influence in the region is overwhelming. The U.S. controls the 
major oil producers. Egypt’s a client. Turkey is pretty much a client. 
Pakistan often has been. As long as the Shah was in power, Iran was 
another client. Of course, control is not total. It’s not even total in 
Central America. But it’s very extensive. In the case of Israel, the 
dependency is extremely high. 

DB In that same Z article, you say that the U.S. gives $3 billion 
annually to Israel, “perhaps twice that if we add other devices. " What 
are those devices, and how does Israel command that level of U. S. aid? 

There’s a whole range of devices which have been looked into in 
some detail by people like Donald Neff and others, who have arrived at 
the $6 billion figure. They include loans that are turned into grants, 
delaying payment, all sorts of financial trickery, handover of technology. 
There’s a whole mass of devices. I think that Neff’s rough estimate of 
about $6 billion probably isn’t too far from the mark. The $3 billion 
alone is unprecedented. How does Israel get that degree of aid? There’s 
debate over that. There have basically been two positions. This is 
independent of whether you support or oppose it. People, whatever 
position they take on that, have divided over two factors. One is the 
domestic lobby. The second is the strategic role that Israel plays in U.S. 
general global policy. My own view is that it’s the second factor that’s 

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largely responsible for this. 

DB The one you called the “local cop on the beat”? 

It’s not I who called it that. I’m borrowing the term from Richard 
Nixon’s Secretary of Defense. 

DB Melvin Laird. While police headquarters remain in Washington. 

That’s my term. So his words were, “We need local cops on the 
beat." I just added a little gloss: And police headquarters remain in 

DB Whether it’s the $3 billion official figure or the $6 billion one, 
that’s an awfully high salary to pay for a cop. 

The U.S. gets a lot out of it. Take that $3 billion. A lot of it is military 
aid. What’s military aid? Military aid is payment by the U.S. taxpayer to 
U.S. corporations. That’s money that doesn’t move out of U.S. banks. 
Incidentally, that’s true of a lot of foreign aid. You want to maintain the 
high-tech sector of the U.S. economy. The way we do that is under a 
military cover. One way of doing it is producing and exporting high- 
technology waste. That’s the majority of the $3 billion. 

Then there’s plenty more that’s involved. There are mutual operations 
in technology development. There’s intelligence sharing. Israel has been 
a mercenary state. For example, when Congress imposed human rights 
constraints on the Carter and Reagan administrations and wouldn’t let 
them participate directly in the ongoing slaughters in Guatemala, they 
could turn to Israel for help. Not just Israel, also Taiwan, Britain, 
Argentine neo-Nazis. The U.S. is a big boy on the block. It has big terror 

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networks. But Israel has been a big part of this in Africa, Latin America, 
Asia, and elsewhere. But its primary role is as a crucial part of the 
system of support of the family dictatorships that the British used to call 
the “Arab fagade” that manages the energy resources and ensures that 
the profits flow to the West. There has always been a kind of tacit 
alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And now it’s likely to come 
more to the surface. That’s an important role. In fact, if you take a look 
at U.S. aid, it shot up in 1967, after Israel smashed the Egyptian forces 
of Nasser, which were the leading forces for independence in the Arab 
world and considered a great danger. Israel smashed that. Aid to Israel 
shot up. 

It went up again, in fact more than quadrupled, in 1970, when 
Jordan was carrying out a massacre of Palestinians. It looked for a 
moment as though Syria might intervene to support the Palestinians, at 
which point the U.S. asked Israel to just mobilize to bar that, and it did. 
“Black September," as it was called, could continue. That was 
considered very important. Henry Kissinger himself described it as one 
of the most important contributions that Israel made, and military aid 
shot up. So it continues. These are some of the reasons why I’m 
skeptical about the domestic lobbying interpretation. In my view 
domestic lobbies work insofar as they line up with major power 
interests. Then they may have an effect, even a swing effect. But not an 
independent effect. 

DB Is there a figure on how much money the U.S. has given to 
Israel since 1948? Does anybody know? 

Sure, you can find it out. It wasn’t enormous, it wasn’t high until 
1967. Virtually all Israeli capital formation up till 1967 was from 
external sources, either from the U.S. or German reparations. Remember 

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that the U.S. gives aid in another way, too. Israel is the only country to 
which it is possible to make tax-free donations. If you want to make tax- 
free donations for the purchase of land from which Arabs are excluded, 
you can do that tax-free in the U.S. And that amounts to a lot of money. 
So if you add up all the money, even up to 1967, it was pretty 
substantial. But after that it goes off the chart. In 1978, Israel was 
receiving more than half of official U.S. aid worldwide. It usually runs 
about a third. And that’s just official aid. It doesn’t count the other stuff. 

DB It’s been suggested already that if there is a Syria-lsrael deal on 
the Golan Heights that the U.S. will essentially pay the bill. 

In a sense it will pay the bill, but the U.S. pays the bill for 
maintaining the state altogether to a large extent. Similarly with Egypt. 
Take a look at U.S. foreign aid. The biggest component of it is Israel, 
Egypt, and Turkey. It has included Pakistan. It varies a bit over the 
years, so there have been years when El Salvador was up there. But 
over a long period it’s basically those states. Per capita, of course, that 
means overwhelmingly Israel. That’s all part of the system of what the 
Nixon administration called the “local cops on the beat.” The Arab 
fagade ensures that the flow of profits from oil go to the West, mainly to 
the U.S. and Britain, and not to the people of the region. That Arab 
fagade needs protection from its own population. There has always been 
a ring of gendarmes that provides that protection, and they get 

DB The New York Times is writing articles saying, Tel Aviv is 
“awash” with luxury cars. Israel is a “rich” country. Its standard of 
living is higher than a couple of European states. 

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It’s a rich country thanks largely to outside aid. On the other hand, 
remember it’s a U.S. client, which means it’s coming to resemble the 
U.S. So it has a very high proportion of the population living in poverty, 
and it has extremely high inequality. I think it’s second only to the U.S. 
among the rich countries. 

DB But the question arises, in this time of so much obsession with 
fiscal austerity and budget cuts, why is this money not being a topic of 

How about the subsidies to the wealthy in the U.S.? Is that a topic of 
debate? The Pentagon budget just went up. Fiscal austerity means fiscal 
austerity for the poor, not for the rich. Here’s some figures from Israel, if 
you're interested, from the Jerusalem Post a few weeks ago. Headline: 
“Record 670,000 Lived Under Poverty Line in 1994, an increase of 
about 24,000 over 1993.” Going up very fast. As the wealth is going 
up. In this respect it’s quite similar to the U.S. 

But “fiscal austerity” is a term that is not intended seriously. There’s 
no fiscal austerity for the Fortune 500, who have just celebrated their 
fourth straight year of double-digit profit growth. Part of the reason for 
that profit growth is precisely federal subsidy. These guys have forgotten 
what capitalism is even supposed to be. There was a front-page article 
in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Two states, Maryland and 
Virginia, were competing with different strategies for economic 
development. For a while, Maryland was going ahead, and then Virginia 
did. The article is all full of talk about their entrepreneurial values and 
business-friendly climate and what great success stories they are. 
Virginia is now in the lead. Take a look closely and you’ll notice that it’s 
not Virginia and Maryland. It’s the parts of Virginia and Maryland that 
border on Washington. The difference of strategy that’s being followed is 

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that Maryland has been banking on biotechnology, expecting to rip off 
the National Institutes of Health, and Virginia has been banking on 
electronics and high tech, counting on ripping off the Pentagon budget. 
That’s their business strategy: Which part of the federal government can 
we use to subsidize us? The reason why Virginia is doing better is that 
they picked the winner at the moment, namely, the Pentagon system, 
which is the traditional technique for maintaining high technology. 
That’s called “entrepreneurial capitalism." 

DB That creates the “opportunity society” that the right wing touts. 

There’s no fiscal austerity there. There’s fiscal austerity for children 
whose mothers don’t live the way Newt Gingrich says they should. 

DB Let's get back to the Middle East. In writing and speaking on the 
topic you sometimes cite Israel Shahak as a source. Who is he? 

Israel Shahak has been for many years Israel’s leading civil 
libertarian. He’s a militant civil libertarian who, since shortly after the 
1967 war, has been defending Palestinian rights and the rights of other 
oppressed people, no matter who’s oppressing them, whether it’s the 
Palestinian authorities and the PLO or Israel. He also writes quite a lot 
about religious coercion and its effects, which are quite extreme in 
Israel, and on many other topics. He also is an invaluable source of 
information on any number of topics. He also circulates to people who 
read Hebrew tons of stuff from the Hebrew press. He does a lot of 
translations which have been very useful. The Israeli press covers things, 
for example, the occupied territories, with considerable accuracy, way 
beyond anything that one finds here. So he’s been a very valuable 
source. He himself is a Holocaust survivor. He was a child in the 

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Warsaw ghetto and ended up after the ghetto uprising in Bergen-Belsen 
for a couple of years and then went to Israel. We’ve been personal 
friends for many years. 

DB You Ve always been critical of Yasir Arafat and his leadership of 
the PLO. Have you seen anything in the last few months that would 
perhaps cause you to reassess your view? 

Yes. It’s getting worse. 

DB In what way? 

I’ve always been critical, back to the time when he emerged in the 
late 1960s, pretty harshly critical all through, but now it’s getting much 
worse. The repression in the West Bank is quite serious. It’s reaching as 
far as even not just the usual targets, but very visible figures, leading 
human rights activists, editors, and so on. The control of the electoral 
process reached such a level of absurdity that it was condemned by 
European Union observers. Israel had made it very clear what kind of 
arrangement they were making with Arafat right after the first Oslo 
agreement. Yitzhak Rabin, who was Prime Minister (this is now 
September 1993, the “great breakthrough”), was explaining it to his 
party, the Israeli Labor Party, or maybe it was to the Parliament. He 
pointed out that it would be a good idea to have Arafat’s forces carry out 
local administration, that is, run the local population, instead of the 
Israeli military, because then there won’t be any complaints to the High 
Court or protests to human rights organizations or mothers and fathers 
and bleeding hearts. In other words, they can do a good job. Israel in 
fact is shifting to the traditional form of colonial control, at last. When 
the British ran India, or white South Africans and Rhodesians ran their 

Classics in Politics.- Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


countries, they tried not to use their own troops. They overwhelmingly 
used local mercenaries. The U.S. does the same in Central America. We 
try to use the security forces. If it’s necessary, U.S. troops go in, but 
local mercenaries called state security forces or paramilitary forces are 
much more efficient, for exactly the reasons that Rabin said. That’s the 
role that the Palestinian Authority is supposed to play. And if Arafat 
doesn’t play it he’s not going to last long. That’s the deal he made with 
Israel. In return, they will be treated very well, like Third World elites 

DB It's interesting to contrast U.S. aid to Israel and U.S. generosity 
to the Palestinians, for example. The U.S. is committed to providing 
$500 million over five years. That’s 100 million bucks a year. It’s not 
much money. 

It’s virtually nothing. A couple of days ago I got a letter from an Israeli 
friend, a professor at Ben-Gurion University who runs the Israeli human 
rights group for Gaza. He travels there. He told me there’s terrible 
poverty and this and that. There’s some construction and development 
going on, and no sign of any U.S. money. What money there is is from 
the European Union or some other source. 

DB Early this morning I was looking at your 1974 book Peace in the 
Middle East? It had a question mark at the end. You were part of a 
group that had a vision of a binational state in Palestine. It seems that 
events have gone in a diametrically opposite direction. Is there any 
chance to revive that dream? 

Yes. In fact, I think that’s the only plausible outcome at this point. I 
was always pretty skeptical, as you recall, both in that book and later, 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


about the two-state settlement ideas that were being proposed. They 
were, in fact, the international consensus for quite a few years. It never 
seemed to me very reasonable. Maybe some kind of federal arrangement 
or something. But at this point, the issue of two states is dead. There is 
not going to be any meaningful Palestinian state. It’s over. In fact, there 
will be no full Israeli withdrawal as required by the international 
diplomatic framework that the U.S. helped to craft, then completely 
undermined. That’s pretty clear. What is being instituted is a kind of an 
apartheid system, as has been pointed out by Israeli commentators, 
meaning something like the system that South Africa imposed in the 
1950s, even with Bantustans, which they'll call maybe a Palestinian 
state. The right end result of that is to overcome apartheid, as in South 
Africa, and move to some sort of cantonal arrangement or federal 
arrangement or other form of arrangement that will recognize, ultimately 
(I hope not too far in the future), the equal rights of all people there, 
which is going to mean their communal rights as well. 

DB There never was much sympathy, as you look over this whole 
question over the last forty or fifty years, for the Palestinian side in the 
U.S. The little there was is virtually disappearing. For example, there 
was the Middle East Justice Network and its newsletter, Breaking the 
Siege. They’re no longer in existence. 

You have to be a little cautious about that. The general American 
population has been in favor of a Palestinian state by about two to one 
for most of the time that polls were taken. And that’s without hearing it 
anywhere. So as usual, there’s a big difference between elite opinion 
and general opinion. But among elite circles you’re absolutely right. So 
in the press and in elite discussion and journals of opinion, the 
Palestinians don’t exist. They’re just a bunch of terrorists. Just to give 

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Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


one trivial example: When the New York Times assigned Greater 
Jerusalem to Israel, did you hear a peep of protest? 

DB No, there was nothing. And also, the figure that is given for the 
settlers on the West Bank and Gaza always excludes Jerusalem. The 
figure in circulation is 130,000. 

Which is under half of the settlers. In fact, Teddy Kollek — who was 
the mayor of Jerusalem — is considered a great hero here, a great 
humanitarian and a marvellous person who was bringing about Arab- 
Israeli harmony in Jerusalem. What he was doing, in fact, was setting 
up highly discriminatory regulations and procedures to try to overcome 
the Arab majority in East Jerusalem, where the population was 
crammed into narrower and narrower quarters, not permitted to build 
while land was being confiscated and Jewish settlement was being 
heavily subsidized. He was very clear about it. He said, Look, I’m not 
going to do anything to help the Arabs unless it’s needed for the benefit 
of Jews. He said, We’ll improve their health standards because we don’t 
want them to get cholera because maybe it’ll spread to the Jewish 
population. But beyond that, nothing, except occasionally for some 
“picture-window effect," as he called it. That’s what the U.S. taxpayer is 
funding. Not only that, but what American intellectuals are calling, as 
Irving Howe once put it, strides towards social democracy that are an 
inspiration to all of us. 

DB / know you’re always kind of reluctant to suggest things for 
people to do. Might there be some avenues that people can pursue on 
this particular issue? 

Sure. This is one of the easiest ones there is. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


DB Why do you say that? 

There’s a very well-established international consensus which the 
U.S. itself helped frame (in fact was instrumental in framing), which 
calls for total Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, period. 
That was the official U.S. position. The U.S. framed it. That could be 
reconstituted. It happened to collapse in the government under 
Kissinger’s influence in 1971, but it’s not an option because people 
aren’t aware of it. Nor does there have to be any support whatsoever for 
aid policies that go toward carrying out what I just described in 
Jerusalem. What’s called “aid” to Israel is a funny kind of aid. It’s the 
kind of aid that’s driving more and more people under the poverty line. 
It’s aid in the usual sense: aid to some sectors, harming other sectors. 
That doesn’t have to happen. Countries should receive aid. I don’t think 
rich countries should have the priority for aid, but if they do, it doesn't 
have to be the kind that leads to a record number of people under the 
poverty line, going up higher than any rich country outside the U.S. It 
doesn't have to be that kind of aid any more than we have to have that 
social policy here. There’s plenty that Americans can do, especially in 
this area, where the U.S. influence and power is so decisive. But of 
course, as usual, it requires first escaping from the tentacles of our 
propaganda system, which in this particular case is really awesome in 
its power. 

DB What’s ahead for you? I know you have a trip coming up to 

I’m leaving in a couple of days. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


DB What are you going to be doing there? 

The usual thing. It’s initially political talks organized by an Institute of 
Economics in Delhi and extending around Delhi to Calcutta, Hyderabad, 
and Trivandrum. It’s mostly political talks, some on linguistics and other 

DB You were last in India twenty years ago? 

More than that. In 1972 I was there to give the Nehru Memorial 

DB It will be interesting to talk to you about your impressions of 
India when you come back. 

I’m afraid when I look at my schedule my impressions are mostly 
going to be of airports and the insides of lecture halls. 

DB We started this series of interviews with you sort of 
contemplating winding down things at MIT and your teaching career 
there. Any further thoughts on that? 

No, not really. I have no definite plans. I forget what we talked about, 
that was a long time ago. It’s very uncertain. 

DB But you want to keep your rigorous schedule of talks and 
incessant requests for interviews like this one at the current level? 

“Want” is a funny word for it. 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky 

Israel: Rewarding the Cop on the Beat 


DB Is there much choice, with the level of demand? 

Not only that, but just a feeling that I’m not doing what I should. 

DB If you had your druthers, what would you rather be doing? 

It gets pretty wearing, but what I should be doing is way more of this 
kind of thing. 

DB Thanks a lot. Bon voyage! 

Classics in Politics: Class Warfare 

Noam Chomsky